Megaupload boss Kim Dotcom will stay behind bars awaiting possible extradition to the US after a New Zealand judge yesterday said the Internet millionaire poses a serious flight risk.
Denying an application for bail, Auckland Judge David McNaughton said the German had the money and shady connections to slip out of New Zealand if he wished, following days of media revelations about his playboy lifestyle.
The founder of Megaupload.com, a file-sharing Web site, has been in detention since police raided his vast “Dotcom Mansion” in Auckland on Friday, spending his 38th birthday on Saturday in a remand center, as part of a major US probe.
Dotcom appeared upbeat as he was ordered to remain in custody until a US extradition application is formally launched on Feb. 22, winking at supporters in the court with his hands on his hips.
However, his lawyer, Paul Davison, said Dotcom was disappointed and would appeal the bail decision as soon as possible, while his co-accused’s lawyer predicted a “fierce battle” against the US allegations.
Revealing that the heftily built businessman was on medication for diabetes and hypertension, Davison said there was no danger Dotcom would flee because his assets had been frozen and his family remained in Auckland.
“He has no intention whatsoever of endeavoring to leave New Zealand,” Davison told reporters.
The judge raised concerns that Dotcom, who US authorities allege received US$42 million from his Internet empire in 2010 alone, had passports and bank accounts in different names.
He said that, given Dotcom’s vast wealth, there was no guarantee he did not have funds hidden away which could be used to escape the country.
In addition, he said an unlicensed sawn-off shotgun found in a “panic room” to which Dotcom retreated when police swooped on his home raised questions about possible crime links.
“It suggests a level of criminality which to my mind could easily extend to exploiting criminal connections to obtain false travel documents and leave the country undetected,” he said.
Judge McNaughton said that Dotcom was accused of the largest Internet copyright piracy case in US history, and prosecutors had vowed to seek maximum penalties of 20 years on racketeering and money-laundering charges.
He said that might prove a possible motive for Dotcom to try to reach Germany — which would provide a safe haven as it refuses to extradite its citizens to the US.
He said prosecutors argued this had already occurred with one of Dotcom’s co-accused, Sven Echternach, another German national who traveled to his homeland from the Philippines after arrest warrants were issued in the case.