Finnish-German web millionaire Kim Dotcom lives in New Zealand in a huge mansion suitable for a James Bond villain. He is fighting piracy charges in court. “I’m not a villain, I’m the good guy,” he says.
WHOEVER lives here is a megalomaniac. This is clear already at the mansion’s gate. The plaque reads: Dotcom mansion. There are elephant-sized letters burnt into the lawn saying: MEGA.
The security guard makes a call on the phone. The gate opens. We drive a curving road into the yard of New Zealand’s largest mansion. On the roof a shredded Finnish flag flutters in the wind.
Another security guard indicates a place for us to park.
I wonder if the host of this estate is awake? This is a fundamental issue, because we were originally supposed to have met Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom already yesterday. When we arrived, Dotcom’s co-worker and friend Finn Batato said that the appointment might not take place, because Kim was sleeping – all day long. When Kim sleeps, the whole mansion is muted. The servants move silently, the lawn movers are turned off, and the children play in their own wing of the mansion.
Servants check Twitter to see if their host is awake. Kim Dotcom is a hardcore tweeter. He has 325,000 followers.
Now Batato comes to greet us happily from inside the mansion. He speaks in a loud voice, which already means that Kim is awake.
There are 2,300 square metres in this house.
The kitchen is dominated by a 4.5-metre long aquarium. On the ground floor there is a poker table, a music studio and a fireplace. The fireplace’s furnace could fit a hippopotamus.
Hung on the wall there is also Kim Dotcom’s own coat of arms: a sword, a crown, garlands and two letter K’s.
Bowler hats are hanging from the ceiling. When taking a closer look, it turns out the hats are lamps. Large photographs are hung on the walls. The main character on them is the host himself: Kim hugging his wife Mona, Kim and a private jet, Kim and luxury cars, Kim and a lion...
Let us call this Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom just familiarly Kim, as everyone calls him Kim, and his last name has changed frequently.
His first surname was Schmitz: he is German from his father’s side. Sometime in the 2000s, he changed his entire name to Kim Tim Jim Vestor.
Then he got even a bigger brainwave and changed his last name to Dotcom. The name refers to domain addresses ending with “.com”. Kim’s own website is, of course, Kim.com. Therefore, his name is his website address.
As we stand by the fireplace a very sizeable figure can be seen in the hall.
“Hyvää päivää,” Kim shouts from a distance. Hyvää päivää is Finnish and is a formal way of saying hello.
He is big, with a height of 202 cm and weight, according a source, of 175 kilograms. One can certainly tell he has been sitting in front of the computer eating potato chips.
Kim greets us briefly and says that he will pay a visit to his children.
In Kim Dotcom’s life everything is big. So is the family with five children: Kim, Kaylo, Kobi, Keera and Kylee. The children are all under five years of age, the youngest are twin daughters, and they live in the mansion’s other wing with their Filipino mother Mona and their nurses.
20 minutes later Kim is back out on the patio. We introduce ourselves properly.
“Miettinen!” he exclaims. “The best name in Finland!”
He is not flattering the journalist, but himself. Kim Dotcom’s mother is Finnish, and her name is Anneli Miettinen. Kim has both Finnish and German citizenship. Due to growing up in Germany, he does not know much Finnish – some phrases and profanities excluded.
Kim sits down in a large, black armchair.
It is 6 November, and is spring in New Zealand. The temperature is around a pleasant 20 degrees Celcius.
A servant brings us mineral water.
First off, Kim wants to explain standing us up the previous day.
He says he did not remember what day we were coming. The actual cause was the fact that the latest version of his favourite game, Call of Duty: Ghosts, was just released. On the previous version of this shooting game Kim made it to the top of the world rankings. Now he wanted to immediately take the wind out of the other top players and played 24 hours straight.
“There are eight players and a map, everyone for himself. You need to get as many kills as possible in ten minutes. The game ends once one player reaches thirty kills. So it is you against the rest – kind of like my life,” Kim says, and bursts out laughing voluminously.
There are enemies and opponents enough in this 39-year-old’s life.
One of them is the United States. The US Department of Justice is accusing Dotcom and his closest co-workers of various crimes and demands his extradition from New Zealand.
The alleged crimes relate to the illegal exploitation of intellectual property. The indictment points out Dotcom as one of the world’s worst online pirates.
Dotcom founded Megaupload in 2005. Megaupload was a popular Internet cloud service, which functioned like a huge hard drive. Anyone was able to save files there for others to download. Of course, films, music and computer programs were also transmitted as pirated copies via Megaupload. And not to forget, inevitably, pornography.
Megaupload made money by charging fees for advertising and premium membership for a smoother transmission.
According to the indictment Megaupload was the world’s 13th most visited website. It had tens of millions of users every day. In its wildest times, up to four per cent of all Internet traffic went through servers rented for Megaupload. Just the registered users numbered 66 million, not to count the unregistered ones.
The company made Dotcom and his partners tens of millions of dollars each year.
The legend of Megaupload came to an end, however, a couple of years ago – in this very same mansion.
Kim Dotcom became world famous in January 2012, when the New Zealand police special forces with helicopters and dogs raided his mansion at the request of the United States. A total of 72 police officers participated in the raid.
The mansion and its communication had been bugged for a long time. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents were flown to New Zealand to help planning the raid – called Operation Debut.
It was the morning of 20 January. The next day, Kim would turn 38.
Kim has a hobby of producing (and, unfortunately, also singing) his own pop songs. He had returned home from a music studio located in the Auckland city centre around five in the morning. The streets were surprisingly busy that night.
“I had a feeling we were being followed,” he says.
Kim went to his bedroom upstairs, took a shower, put on his black pyjamas and lay down on his specially customised Hästens bed.
Kim is suffering from back problems, so his bed is his office. It is surrounded by monitors and chrome lamps that look like AK-47 assault rifles.
He was going to work from his bed that morning. At ten a conference call was to take place.
“I do not remember the exact time, but some time around half past six, I heard the sound of the helicopter and heard banging noises on my windows.”
The helicopter’s rotor wash was throwing limestone pebbles from the yard onto the windows. Kim thought his trusted pilot was landing too close to the mansion. The bedroom windows are covered with thick velvet blinds, so Kim could not see out.
Kim wasn’t astonished at first, because his guests often arrived by helicopter. He was expecting guests from abroad for his birthday party.
But soon he heard banging at the bedroom door. A custom-built door was locked automatically after Kim’s arrival from the studio. Kim understood that he was under attack. He panicked and pushed the alarm button next to his bed, just as his head of security, Wayne Tempero, had advised him to do in such a situation.
Kim rose out of bed and went towards the cupboard from which a secret door opened.
It led to a staircase. Kim was in the secret passage’s stairs on his way to the secure room when he heard the door being smashed. There was a shout, “Police!”
Kim went on his way up the stairs. However, he left the safe room door unlocked.
“I did not want to appear suddenly out of the closet, so I went up. I sat on the floor on a pillow and waited. Soon the bodyguard showed them where to enter,” Kim says and continues. “My fears proved to be true. Even though I had my hands tied up, they punched me, kicked me and stepped on my hand until it was bleeding. They really treated me badly. I was a completely harmless guy.”
Dotcom, a German marketing director, Finn Batato, and a German technology director, Mathias Ortman, were arrested at the mansion. The company’s chief programmer, a Dutchman called Bram van der Kolk, was captured from his home in Auckland.
Police officers told the men that the US Department of Justice was accusing them of copyright violations and money laundering. Kim was surprised in particular about the third count: racketeering. It means something like belonging to a mafia-like criminal organisation.
Police told at a press conference that the prime suspect had been found in the security room with a sawn off shotgun. It sounded dramatic, but was not quite true. The security room has a shotgun safe, but Dotcom was nowhere near the cabinet. The shotgun had not been sawn off, and it had rubber projectiles, Dotcom says. Later the police chief had to apologise for this erroneous impression.
In retrospect, it became clear that many other things with the police raid had gone wrong.
Dotcom and his companions spent several weeks behind bars.
The company’s and defendants’ accounts and assets were frozen around the world. Megaupload was shut down. Kim’s dozen cars, including a Rolls-Royce, were confiscated.
According to Kim’s boastful sense of style he had acquired special register plates for his cars, such as GOD, GOOD, EVIL, HACKER, POLICE. Now, after the arrest, the GUILTY and MAFIA plates appeared particularly bad in the public eye.
Many other things, too, looked like bad publicity from Kim Dotcom’s point of view:
He was a former hacker, who had previous criminal convictions.
He spent his life of luxury in a mansion.
He had the reputation of being an arrogant man.
If the United States wanted to show the world that pirates negligent of copyrights are not taken lightly – no matter where in the world it takes place – there was no better target.
He could have been a James Bond villain, and he has been called such.
“I think more for the lifestyle than the actual villainy. Because I’m not a villain. I’m the good guy. I don’t hurt anybody. I haven’t done anything wrong. For people to call me the James Bond villain is more about the larger than life characters that are portrayed in those movies. But I think James Bond would have a good time here. We could play poker. I could take all his money. I’m good at poker,” Kim says and laughs.
The arrest triggered a legal battle that has lasted for nearly two years. The extradition to the United States will come up in court again next spring. In New Zealand, Dotcom has not been prosecuted for copyright crimes.
Kim and his partners are on the loose, but they are not allowed to travel from New Zealand. They have to report to the police on a weekly basis.
“New Zealand is the world’s best place to be stuck – after Finland,” Kim says on the mansion’s patio.
“But it is really good climate, I like the fresh air, I like the nature. And it’s a beautiful home.”
For the same reasons Kim and his family moved to the country in 2010 from Hong Kong, where he had resided since 2003. As his family grew bigger, he wanted cleaner and safer surroundings for his children to grow up in.
“In New Zealand there are no poisonous animals, no nuclear power. That is important. Look what happened in Japan.”
For a man who has taken huge risks, he seems surprisingly cautious. He’s talking about the population explosion and depletion of natural resources. He fears the world is drifting towards chaos.
Kim gets about 37,000 euros a month from his frozen assets for living expenses, such as the estate rent. The mansion has more than ten employees, so the amount is not enough for man accustomed to the sweet life. He says that his friends help him financially.
But is he a worst class cyber criminal, as portrayed?
The US indictment language is tough. It calls Kim Dotcom’s venture “the Mega Conspiracy”.
Dotcom himself feels that the claims are ridiculous and completely unfounded. The indictment, he says, is a “press release”, serving only the purpose of defaming him.
This is what most suspects say, but the Dotcom case actually is also legally very open to interpretation. For this reason, his extradition has been delayed. Kim Dotcom operated in the greyest corners of the Internet.
According to Kim, Megaupload was just a huge hard drive connected to the Internet, and using it had been made quick and easy. Similar services in the cloud, he says, exist to this day, but they have been left alone from criminal prosecution.
This is true. Piracy did not disappear from the Internet after the closure of Megaupload. For example, on popular online services such as YouTube and Rapidshare, intellectual property rights are violated on a regular basis.
In 1998, the United States introduced legislation that actually protects services like Megaupload: administrators are not responsible for what the service’s users are doing, as long as they are not aware of illegal activities and remove the illegal material at the request of the copyright holder. Dotcom says that Megaupload acted in this manner. It provided film companies with a removal tool with which they could actually remove links infringing copyright
Prosecutors disagree. According to the Megaupload indictment, they did not always remove the files even when requested.
According to the prosecution, Dotcom and his partners cleverly made use of the intellectual property rights of others. For example, their Megavideo service let one view video for free only for 72 minutes. To watch a film in full, one had to pay.
Copyright issues are complex, and the story is full of legal quibbling, but Dotcom’s defence is actually quite simple.
He spreads his hands.
He says that he could not and was not able to take responsibility for what service users uploaded.
Enforcement of intellectual property rights was therefore not his responsibility. Besides, it would have been practically impossible in such a popular service.
Kim also defends himself by the fact that Megaupload might have violated the privacy of the users if it had started filtering the files.
“The United States wants to make me responsible for the actions of our users. That’s unheard of. It’s a novel case, it’s a test case, there has never been a case like this in history, and the law doesn’t even have a criminal statue for secondary copyright infringement,” Dotcom says.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation had been investigating Megaupload for a couple of years before the prosecution.
Among other things, e-mails between Dotcom and his partners are used as evidence. In one of them, chief programmer Bram van der Kolk wrote: “We have a funny business ... modern day pirates :)”
The chief technology officer Mathias Ortman replied: “We’re not pirates, we’re just providing shipping services to pirates :)”
Dotcom claims that this was plainly a joke.
Prosecutors have argued that Dotcom and his partners uploaded large quantities of illegal files on the service. The defendants strongly deny this.
According to the prosecution Dotcom created a rewards program, which encouraged users to infringe copyrights. The more sought-after an uploaded file was, the more Megaupload paid for it.
Dotcom does not deny that he had known about the Megaupload trafficking of illegal copies of movies and music. It is also clear that the company benefited from copyright infringement.
But according to Dotcom, this does not mean that Megaupload is guilty of crimes.
“The Internet has a problem with piracy and so does Megaupload and all other sites, YouTube as well,” he says.
“But our service had a lot of perfectly legitimate use, such as freeware, home videos, photos.”
The indictment alleges that Megaupload caused copyright holders damages worth as much as 500 million dollars.
Dotcom laughs at the claim. He is good at knocking down the prosecution’s allegations, one at a time. He is his own PR manager. There are no lawyers or press officers running around during the interview.
In the course of the extradiction trial Kim has taken a number of small victories in court and in public. He has stirred the New Zealand politics big time. At least one minister has been forced to resign.
Now, Kim is setting up his own party. He has pledged to tell more about it on the second anniversary of the raid next January.
Kim’s lawyers have indicated that New Zealand’s intelligence service had snooped on him illegally. The court also judged the entire raid illegal because there was not sufficient justification for the search warrant. It was also illegal for the police to send a copy of the hard drives seized in the raid to a foreign law enforcement agency, the FBI.
Dotcom has sued the New Zealand police and intelligence agencies for eavesdropping and is claiming compensation for the damages. He suspects that his mansion is still under surveillance. When he tells about his suspicions in detail, it is the only time when he asks me to switch off my recorder.
When Dotcom moved to New Zealand, he kept a low profile at first, and he was regarded with suspicion. Since then, he has become a cult figure of a gasbag, a misunderstood anti-hero fighting against the regime.
Public opinion in New Zealand is that Dotcom has been abused and that the theatrical raid on his estate was conducted to suck up to the Americans. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has had to apologise for the illegal interception of Dotcom’s communications. Kim, in turn, described the prime minister as a “liar” and promises to produce more evidence for his claim.
Kim claims that in the background of the raid there is a dirty political game being played in the US and New Zealand. At least it is clear that the Hollywood film industry interest group MPAA has been lobbying decision-makers in both countries.
“John Key is an Obama fan boy. He wanted to help Hollywood because the studio threatened that they will not shoot the Hobbit movies here,” Kim says.
Why did the United States undertake such an impressive operation, if the indictment is based on such shaky grounds?
In Kim’s view, the reason is simple.
A scapegoat was needed.
Dotcom says that the United States has offered an agreement, but he says no to such consent.
“This time I’m prepared to fight and I’m going to fight it all the way. Unless the deal includes full reimbursement of damage. Including to the 220 staff who lost their jobs.”
The mansion’s courtyard has a swimming pool, a fountain, a tennis court, and a hedge maze.
The yard is surrounded by vast lawns. Kim likes to drive around them in his customised golf cart.
On one of the hills stands a giraffe – though a tin one.
There is also a vineyard. Kim walks in the terrace area and motions in the direction of a flower garden.
“We are so lucky,” he sighs. “It blooms all year round and smells good. It is a beautiful place.”
He is a strange person.
“I have a huge ego,” he admits.
He takes himself seriously, but also knows how to laugh at himself and his weight.
For example, he tells us what happened at the Frankfurt Motor Show.
Sports car company Lamborghini’s representative assured Kim that, yes, he could fit in the company’s latest model, because its cab was designed for basketball star Dennis Rodman. After some sales talk Kim agreed to try it out. Of course, he got stuck in the cab.
It took four men to pull him out. Hundreds of people around laughed with tears in their eyes.
“My God. Fucking embarrassing,” he says and laughs.
Occasionally Kim behaves like a clown and the swank spirals out of control. For example, a couple of years ago, he organised the largest fireworks display in the country’s history at Auckland harbour. About 370,000 dollars went up in smoke.
“I’m a big baby. I have always enjoyed my toys and that’s all it is: they just got bigger. They are more expensive, a bit bigger. When I buy a car, it has to be the best model. It has the best accelerator, all the latest entertainment systems. It’s all about gadgets. It’s all about toys. I love new things and cars are my passion. Do I need 14 cars? No. Total bullshit. Nobody needs 14 cars, but if I didn’t have them, I would probably have a new car every two months, because I’m get bored quickly.”
Style questions may be debatable, but at least Kim is a pedant and he demands quality. The technology used in his web services has always been impressive. When Kim managed to lure his mate Kimi Räikkönen to race with him on the Nürburgring motor track, a very handsome video of the race was made, using even aerial photos taken from a helicopter.
Black is his favourite colour. His cars are black, and Kim almost always wears the same clothes: black hooded jacket, black loose jogging pants, black flat cap. He has one hundred pairs of hooded jackets and jogging pants in his closet.
“If I dress in white, I look like a gigantic Michelin-man.”
Again a hearty laugh. Then he gets more serious.
“Even Steve Jobs often used to wear the same clothes”, Kim says casually.
He likes this metaphor. He says he also shares the legendary Apple founder’s interest in details.
Although Kim is a former hacker, he hasn’t actually hard-coded for decades. He comes up with an idea, discusses it with his henchmen and lets them take care of the implementation. When done, he tells them what little things have gone wrong.
Kim’s closest co-workers, such as Finn Batato and the chief technology officer Mathias Ortman, seem genuinely respectful towards Kim and his vision. On the other hand, Kim is always the one who makes the decisions.
According to Batato, Kim is generous to his employees and friends. It is easy to believe of a man who has made spending money a form of art.
Despite his impressive dimensions, Kim does not seem scary. He talks a lot and is not shy with any questions. He likes long monologues in which he reveals all kinds of things.
Such as: “Sleep is the greatest luxury. When you have a lot of money, life gets really busy. Sometimes you get to sleep only five or six hours. Then came a moment when I said: none of that for me. I’ll sleep when I’m tired, and I’ll wake up when I have rested. I’ve stuck to that for 12 years. When I go to bed, I need a really good bed, just the right kind of pillows and a blanket. The room temperature must be right. It has to be really dark. Also very important: it is totally silent. No devices beeping, no sound of anything, just completely quiet and no light. If I go on a holiday, and I sleep in a hotel room, and even if it’s the best hotel, it’s a nightmare. Either the curtains don’t close correctly, or the aircon is screaming NAAAHH, or there is an alarm clock blinking, flashing with blue light and stupid stuff like that. And there is a reason for it. Because when I dream, I’m in charge of my dream. When I dream, I am able to steer the dream to a certain direction, you know. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s really quite cool. When I dream, I can fly. I can jump off a bridge, and I will fly and then I want to leave earth. And then I just fly into the universe, I fly to other stars and if I just stay on earth, I go into a bar, I pick up a girl, and I have a good time with that girl. You know it’s crazy. When I’m dreaming, it’s really cool to be able to do that.”
Kim Schmitz was born in Kiel, northern Germany, in 1974.
His mother was a native of the Turku area. She met a German man, moved to Germany with him and soon found herself expecting a baby.
Kim’s father was an alcoholic.
“When he drank, he turned aggressive, and he beat my mum. I have a little scar here in my face, he hit me with a table tennis racket,” Kim says, his finger pointing at his upper lip.
His mother and Kim fled these temper tantrums to shelter homes.
“It was a difficult time. So, I never drank any alcohol. I have never been drunk in my life. I have never smoked. Because I didn’t want to be like him.”
Kim’s parents divorced when Kim was getting to school age. Kim has not seen his father for a long time. He says he does not know whether he is still alive, and doesn’t even really care.
Kim stayed with his mother. His mum worked long hours, including a job as a cook. At times, they ate nothing but gruel or toast with ketchup.
Kim decided already as a child that he would be rich when he grew up. In this way he could guarantee his mother a comfortable standard of living.
“Of course there were other motivations: just wanting to be successful. I watched these James Bond movies and I saw underwater cities, private islands, space stations, fuel tankers turning to superyachts. So, to me that was the kind of out-of-the-box thinking: there is really no limit to anything. If you want to do it big, you can.”
When Kim was about 12 years old, everything changed. He got his first computer.
“Technology made me realise that there were so many more important things than those that were taught at school. So school became secondary to computers.”
At that time, in the late 1980s, the Internet was not yet widely known, but the hackers were able to talk via modems – and steal data. They had fun by breaking into phone lines and making free calls to foreign countries.
Kim’s hacker name was Kimble. In Germany, the hackers also met face to face. In one of these meetings Kim met a reporter and decided to give an interview. Other hackers were dismayed, but Kim was enchanted by publicity.
“I was a young kid, childish and silly, and I thought that working with the media was cool. To journalists, hacking was magic. It was wizardry. You were like the Wizard of Oz, who has the world at his fingertips and who can turn off the power and fire rockets from space.”
Soon Kim was on TV, with his own face, revealing the secrets of the hackers. He claimed, among other things, that he had tampered with chancellor Helmut Kohl’s credit history. He became pursued by the police and faced the wrath of the hacker community. German hackers later said that Kim was not a good hacker, but a big mouth who took credit for others’ deeds.
What is certain about those days, however, is that among other things, Kim was working on a deception. Kimble was still a minor when he established two toll telephone services for chatting, one in Hong Kong and the other in the Netherlands Antilles. He stole phone card details for telecom operators and made calls, earning at least 75,000 German marks. It was a lot of money for a young man.
“I’m not trying to justify it. I did something illegal, it was definitely criminal and I got sentenced for it under juvenile law: two years on probation.”
There was an unexpected consequence. Telecom operators and credit card companies began calling Kimble. They wanted to know how hackers cheated them.
Kim realised that this was his chance. In his 20s, he founded Data Protect, a company that began consulting with major corporations on security issues. Kim hired his old hacker buddies, such as Mathias Ortmann, to his company. He switched to the good guys’ side to fight computer criminals. This also reduced his sentence.
As the company started doing very well immediately, Kim was not afraid to show it. He sought for euphoria behind the steering wheel.
“Many times we drove with Finn from Munich to Monaco in four hours when the journey is perhaps 800 to 900 kilometres. Sometimes we got the idea late Friday night, and neither of us even took a toothbrush along,” Kim recalls.
When speeding, accidents happen. The worst occurred when Kim was driving without a seatbelt on the highway and the speed was reportedly 250 kilometres per hour. Fortunately, the crash barrier had been removed from the driving point, and the shoulder of the road had saplings planted. They softened the impact, but still the car rolled several times. Kim broke his hand badly, but was miraculously saved.
“It changed everything. At the time, I decided that I would achieve all my dreams before I turned 30. We travelled all over the world very expensively, we did everything possible. I decided to live life to the fullest.”
And Kim really did: lavish parties, more speeding with sports cars, and a lot of publicity.
Kim also showed off on his website Kimble.org. Often he had an own photographer along to capture the life of a young IT entrepreneur – on luxury yachts, surrounded by beautiful women.
When the IT bubble burst, in Germany Kim Schmitz represented everything that was disgusting about that age of hyperbole.
Economically, he survived. He sold DataProtect at the peak of the IT bubble in 2000 and started as an investor. His investment company’s name was Kimvestor. Then, in 2001, Kim decided to invest in an Internet company called LetsBuyIt – which was close to bankruptcy. He invested money in the company and claimed that he was compiling a group of investors that would save the company. Following the announcement, the price of LetBuyIt’s shares rose like a rocket. Then, suddenly, Kim sold his share and made over one million euros.
The prosecutor began to suspect insider trading. Kim travelled to Thailand.
“Then I made a big mistake. I said in an interview that if this is how Germany treats its achievers and entrepreneurs, maybe I shouldn’t go back to Germany. I was angry and stupid and I didn’t mean it. I just wanted to say: this is unfair.”
The prosecutor took that to mean that Kim did not want to go back to help investigate the matter, and sought an arrest warrant. His passport was cancelled. Thai authorities concluded that Kim Schmitz was in the country illegally and he was sent to jail. According to Kim, the Thai prison was a “hell hole”. For a man accustomed to luxury beds, it was such a terrible place that, as early as a week later, he accepted a transfer to Germany without demur.
The return of the “bad boy” became a media circus already on the plane. After landing at the Munich airport, he stated he was “His Royal Highness, Kimble I”.
The King was placed in custody for almost six months.
Kim still holds strongly that he did not do anything wrong. He explains the twists and turns of the events in painful detail.
After six months in prison the prosecutor offered a deal: if Kim would confess to the crime, he could be immediately released and only be fined.
“My lawyer said I should not confess, because we would win. But the downside is that they would appeal it.”
Kim was, therefore, in his own words, left with two options. Either he would remain in Germany and fight in court for a number of years as a man who had lost its reputation. The second option was to confess and begin a new life abroad.
Kim chose the latter option, confession, and says he still regrets it.
The computer fraud committed as a minor could have been set aside as the indiscretion of a young man, but due to an insider trading conviction obtained in mature adulthood he has been labelled a professional criminal.
The decision came quickly. Kim had had enough of the prison, the media and Germany. He decided to start a new life in Hong Kong. “I wanted to go somewhere where I wouldn’t need to hear that bullshit. It was the best decision of my life, because in Asia I could flourish, I could be successful, have many different business ventures, not just Megaupload, and they all did very well.”
In Manila, on a nightclub dance floor, he found his beautiful and graceful wife six years ago. Mona Dotcom is now 25 years old. Kim talks about her as the love of his life.
Is Kim Dotcom a true rogue or an imaginative innovator? Or is he a narcissist who enjoys life, and who has been made a scapegoat of the copyright battle?
Difficult to say, but at least he is an absolutely entertaining public relations man.
Kim gives the impression that he has nothing to hide. For example, we get to follow the board meeting of his new company, Mega.
And yes, he feels remorse. When we meet Kim on the second day, he is obviously sorry and embarrassed.
In fact, he had stood us up for a second time.
We waited at a music studio in the centre of Auckland, where Kim was supposed to arrive to finish his pop record at seven in the evening. At midnight a message appeared saying he would not arrive at all. Kim was entrenched in his Xbox room, and could not get his fingers off the console controls.
Now we are sitting at Kim’s business partner Tony Lentino’s farm in a hangar, eating delicacies from a grill.
At the barbecue the village’s volunteer fire service is also involved. True to his style, Kim has started to sponsor the department financially. Now the fire department intends to change its name to Mega Fire. Kim Dotcom’s world is a strange place.
Mega is a cloud service, in principle, similar to Megaupload, but now all message traffic is strongly encrypted. This ensures that even administrators cannot know which files are transmitted. Thus they cannot be accused of copyright offences.
This example also shows how difficult it is to fight on behalf of the copyrights in the Internet age. The arm of the law can always try to reach as far as out to New Zealand, but technical means can always be found to circumvent restrictions and paragraphs of law.
It is worth recalling that encryption technology is not there to protect only the pirates. It can also protect those who fear governmental persecution or want to make sure that the US intelligence agency NSA is not making recordings of ordinary people’s home videos. It is not surprising that after Edward Snowden’s revelations Kim has advertised himself as an Internet freedom fighter.
But now at the barbeque Kim is lacking his usual brilliance.
He regrets many times out loud that we had to wait for him for the second time.
“You will soon start finding me unreliable,” Kim says apologetically. “I’m afraid that you are offended, and your story will be murderous.”
Kim Dotcom’s life has been remarkable, but fortunately there is one thing that there is no copyright controversy about: his childhood memories of Finland.
Kim has relatives in Finland and also a big sister and a big brother from his mother’s previous marriage. The family is extensive, as Kim’s mother has six brothers and sisters.
Kim says he always loved Nokia phones. He is shocked by the company’s crash:
“For me, as a Finn, it was a big loss. I can’t understand how they managed to kill the company. It had such a strong position.”
Kim remembers cheering for ski jumping legend Matti Nykänen, and later for Finnish Formula One heroes.
“Every time I go to Finland, I try to catch up with Kimi Räikkönen and Mika Häkkinen. Mika not so much, Kimi more.”
Kim previously visited Finland in the summer of 2011. At the time he went to see Räikkönen’s house in Kaskisaari, an affluent neighbourhood in Helsinki. It had been for sale for a long time.
“I was thinking about buying it for my mother. Because my mother is now beginning to be of an age that she could move back to Finland. My mother came in and said, ‘My son, this is way too big for me’,” Kim says, and laughs hoarsely.
“She is still humble.”
Kim remembers summers back in Finland with great nostalgia.
“My mother’s sibling had a beautiful house by one of those thousand lakes. We went fishing and we swam. He had a nice boat and we jumped into the water from it. Those were always the best times of my life.”
Text: Anssi Miettinen – HS
Translation: Laura Halminen – HS
Photos: Kaisa Rautaheimo – HS