Dotcomedy has been keeping us all entertained, disturbed and often gobsmacked for nearly two years now. But is the Kim Dotcom story a farce or a more sinister thriller? What are his plans for that new political party? What does the timeline about his application for permanent residency reveal? And why does his phone go all funny? Chris Barton has been visiting the weirdest home and the highest courts in the land.
Photo: Simon Young.
The guard takes my name. Security check. The gate swings open. The winding white gravel driveway passes a “Mega” sign on the grass and ends in a turning circle between two houses — the ground where the helicopter briefly touched down on the day of the raid, kicking up a white mist and pinging stones at the cars. Inside is the only place in this mansion where everything is black and white — black round table, white leather couches, outrageously kitsch black chandelier, a black galley kitchen with 4.5m tropical fish tank splashback, hanging black bowler-hat light shades. The space is a pastiche of pointed gothic arched windows on one side, rounded arches to an adjoining lounge, then French doors to the courtyard.
Kim can’t come down, I’m told, but you can go up. Nothing prepares you for the sight at the top of the stairs. The big man is lying on his stomach, semi-propped up on his elbows, his chin resting on a pile of folded black towels, looking at a flat screen at the foot of the bed. The upper half of his torso is clad in his hallmark black garb, the lower half draped in a bright orange towel. Yes, his butt does look quite big in that. He’s hurt his foot. Goodness, what happened? He was walking the grounds, he says, lost in his thoughts, and fell over. His face is flushed with beads of sweat. “If I look a bit…” he says, gesturing around his face, “it’s because I’ve just had a hot shower.”
In bed with Kim Dotcom. Many in the media, and the odd politician, have been accused of that. I take the chair. According to a October 2012 feature in Wired, this is Dotcom’s bed of choice — a handcrafted Hästens from Sweden, a perfect matrix of horsehair, cotton, flax and wool costing around $100,000. It’s his “work bed”, his office. Computers at the foot of the bed — check. Chromed AK-47 lamps either side — check.
It’s a far cry from the 10cm-thick mattress on a concrete slab he had in Mt Eden Prison. Dotcom suffers from back pain and receives regular massages and special treatments — “electric therapy where they put a little electric current through your back”.
In prison he was in agony. “I couldn’t move at all, was in severe pain with muscle spasms and completely immobilised.” He told the guard who came to escort him to a meeting with his lawyers: “Sorry, I can’t move.” They got him a wheelchair. “But even then, driving me around in that, every bump…”
His lawyers suggested that perhaps they could reach out to Act MP John Banks. The prison was in his Epsom electorate. Banks didn’t want to know him.
How did he feel, having given Banks $50,000 for his 2010 Super City mayoral campaign? “That was disappointing. It’s not about the money. We became quite close. His wife and my wife got along quite well. They were here playing with my kids. There was a good vibe. He called me his friend.”
The Dotcom-ologue: he does it quite often on numerous subjects — the corrupt United States, the corrupt New Zealand government, the dastardly Hollywood conspiracy. Once started, he’s unstoppable. “If somebody is a friend of mine, I’m not going to abandon them just because there is an event that might make me look bad. That’s a weak character. You know what a real friend is when that person is there for you in your darkest hour.”
Money can’t buy you friends. A police investigation into the donation — and another for $15,000 from SkyCity casino — found Banks should not have recorded them as anonymous, but the detectives didn’t believe they could prove he “knowingly” signed a false return, so didn’t lay charges. A private prosecution was then laid against Banks. In a hearing in October — to which Dotcom was summonsed to give evidence — Judge Phil Gittos said sufficient evidence had been presented to send the matter to trial. That particular cabbage boat may yet come down the river.
Dotcom claims his association with Banks doesn’t mean his natural political inclination is to the far right. He gave a donation to the person, not the party. “He [Banks] told me that New Zealand needs to open up for the internet economy — that all we do here is grow grass for our cows and sheep. He gave me this whole speech. I was impressed. I know today the guy conned me.”
January 20, 2012. Finn Batato awoke to the sound of rotor blades. He wasn’t overly concerned. People were flying in by helicopter to the mansion all the time. 6.47am did seem early. He climbed out of bed. The upstairs guest room looked across the estate’s manicured grounds to the giraffe and rhinoceros sculptures. Ooh, that’s very forceful, he thought, seeing a policeman taking down one of the mansion’s security guards in a flying tackle and cuffing him. He wondered what the guard might have done. Drug dealer? Batato shrugged. He was awake now. He may as well start his day.
As Megaupload’s marketing and advertising manager, he had emails to deal with. He put on a robe, grabbed his notebook, cigarettes and phone and headed downstairs. It was a beautiful day. There was that nice place behind the house where he and Mathias Ortman sat and worked when they were last here. The house slept as he exited through the back door.
As he strolled into the garden, two men erupted from the hedges, yelling and pointing semi-automatics at his head. That can’t be me, thought Batato, turning to look for somebody behind him.
“Are you talking to me?”
“Yes. Put the computer down.”
The police cuffed him behind his back. He was charged with copyright infringement, racketeering and other charges he didn’t fully comprehend. His mind was spinning. He’d never been arrested or charged with anything in his life.
Around the same time, Ortman, in another of the guest rooms, awoke to a ruckus downstairs, followed by pounding on his door.
“Open the door or we’ll break it open!”
Ortman jumped out of bed and opened the door to three men pointing semi-automatics at him. This might, he thought, be an armed robbery — the Coatesville property was, after all, a high- profile location. The gunmen introduced themselves as police.
Bewildered, Ortman was escorted to sit on the lawn beside the house. It was a surreal scene — police running with dogs, handcuffed guards, at one stage five or six gunmen on the roof. A war zone. He was read what seemed bizarre charges — conspiracy to commit copyright infringement. This is a big misunderstanding, he thought. I’ll clear this up quickly. He had to. Megaupload was undergoing maintenance at the time and, as chief technical officer, he needed his computer back by the evening to complete the job.
Across town at his Orakei home, Bram van der Kolk’s hell was just beginning. The chief programmer had been working until the wee small hours on new website features and was about to go to bed when there was a loud knocking. Huh? Weird time, he thought. He opened the door. Three police officers strode into the house and immediately grabbed his iPhone.
“We have an order from the United States.”
There must be some mistake. More police — about 15 — swarmed into the house. His cars were driven away. He was being arrested for money laundering. He had a rough idea what it meant, but always associated it with people selling drugs. Racketeering? The 29-year-old, who’d never been in trouble or arrested before, and never expected to be, had never heard of that.
He was to go with them to the police station.
“Will I go home after that?”
“Just say goodbye to your family.”
He kissed his wife, Junelyn, and two-year-old son, Xander, and left. He still didn’t realise he was about to be locked up.
Meanwhile, back at the mansion, Kim Dotcom sat on the floor, his back against a pillar, in the attic above his bedroom. It’s a forlorn space — devoid of all furniture, yet overpowered by a screaming-red carpet. Dotcom retreated there because of the intruder-on-the-property protocol he’d worked out with Wayne Tempero, his head of security. Hearing heavy banging on his bedroom door, Dotcom pressed the emergency button beside his bed that sent a signal to the security guards and Tempero’s room. As he entered the secret door and started up the stairway, he heard: “Police, police!”
He paused and decided not to press the button to engage three metal bolts to lock the door firm. There was a terrible hammering. The police were smashing the dumbwaiter to the kitchen with a sledge hammer. They thought Billy Big Steps, as they called him — all two metres and 130kg of him — was hiding inside. Dotcom decided it would be safer to wait upstairs. It took forever.
“I’ll show you where he is,” said a handcuffed Tempero on the lawn with Ortman, the security guards, a couple of Filipino butlers and Mona Dotcom — 27 weeks pregnant with twins. The team started up the stairs. Unbeknown to them, an armed offenders squad (AOS) member was already inside — gaining access from the roof via a small service door. Unaware of Dotcom sitting behind the pillar, the squad member headed for the gun safe at the other end of the room. There was a key in the lock. As he opened the safe and discovered a shortened pump-action shotgun, the entry team fanned out into the red room. Dotcom had his hands up. He was forcefully pushed face down.
Dotcom was taken downstairs and read the charges. Mona was frantic because the police were keeping her separated from her three children.
“You know my wife is pregnant. Can I just calm her down? I know she must be very scared. If I talk with her and tell her everything is okay she will feel much better.”
The police were unmoved.