Fri, Jan 27, 2012 - Page 12 News List

Are jet-set days over for Megaupload?

Flamboyant former hacker wanted by FBI over Internet piracy is refused bail in New Zealand

By Robert Booth, Toby Manhire and Stuart Braun  /  The Guardian, AUCKLAND and BERLIN

This image shows a page of Megapuload.com, one of the largest file-sharing Web sites to be shut down by US authorities.

Photo: AFP

He lived a life dominated by fast cars, holidays on US$10 million yachts and an obsession with shoot ‘em up computer games. But on Wednesday associates of Kim Dotcom, the former hacker wanted by the FBI over download sites allegedly costing copyright holders at least US$500 million, claimed his cartoon-like image was carefully calculated to help earn him a fortune. In fact, they said, it obscured a sharp and decisive business intelligence.

Dotcom, the 38-year-old German founder of Megaupload.com formerly known as Kim Schmitz, was refused bail on Wednesday by a New Zealand judge who warned he may try to flee the country if he were released from jail pending an extradition hearing on Feb. 22 concerning online piracy charges in the US.

Citing the discovery of unlicensed and illegal guns at Dotcom’s rented mansion north of Auckland, where he was arrested with three others on Saturday, David McNaughton said “flight risk remains a real and significant possibility, which I cannot discount.”

Dotcom appeared at North Shore district court wearing an all-black outfit. Speaking afterwards his lawyer, Paul Davison, said he was “very disappointed” and that Dotcom “has no intention whatsoever of endeavoring to leave New Zealand.” He said his client would appeal against the decision.

Public fascination with the Megaupload case has been fueled this week by details of Dotcom’s flamboyant lifestyle, conducted under a variety of aliases, including Kimble, King Kimble and Kim Tim Jim Vestor. In 2001, for example, he embarked on a lavish trip to Monaco involving a fleet of supercars, a huge yacht and helicopters. Dotcom also commissioned a documentary for the occasion, which was fronted by a German TV comedian, Frank Lammermann. The real purpose, a former associate who organized the holiday said, was to create a sense of greater wealth than Dotcom actually had while he was raising finance for new businesses.

“The parties were in part advertising and PR,” said the associate, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “He wanted to show how he was the biggest and greatest and how he had money. Back in 2000 he didn’t have as much money as he showed the world he did.”

The film Kimble Does Monaco shows his entourage on board the Golden Odyssey with bikini-clad women, including Playboy model Gitta Saxx. In one scene a group of semi-naked women is sprayed with champagne by the yacht’s pool while “Captain Kim” looks on, decked out in black suit and polo neck and black and white shoes. In another scene he is serenaded by his cronies around a grand piano, before they decamp to watch the Monte Carlo grand prix from a party room directly above the starting grid.

The flamboyance and cult of personality masked not only his intelligence, but also his background and true personality, the associate said.

“I was close to him, but I never really knew what he was thinking about. Sometimes he was a really nice guy and at other times he was awful. But he was really good at bringing people around him and getting them to do their best for him. He was able to talk to them and motivate them to do what he wanted.

“He never talked about his childhood, though I believe he had no contact with his father. He was a bit like the fat boy with no friends who only had his computer.”

Indeed, even as the FBI was finalizing a charge sheet over Christmas, accusing him of racketeering and money laundering in one of the largest criminal copyright cases ever brought by the US, Dotcom posted a video of himself becoming the world’s leading player of the computer game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. His colleagues marked the achievement of the best “kill to death ratio” by whooping and firing confetti over him and preparing a celebratory cake in the shape of a number 1.

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