Megaupload extradition: Rotund web baron Kim Dotcom appears in court

At last – and he's got a special ergonomic chair!

After three years of legal delays, Kim Dotcom finally appeared in court in Auckland, New Zealand, on Monday to start his extradition hearing to the United States.

Dotcom faces criminal charges for what the US government has said was an organized plan to make money from selling access to copyrighted music and video. He is fighting efforts to ship him stateside for trial.

The US claims he and his partners made US$175m from file-sharing website MegaUpload and its related websites – which the Department of Justice shut down. The US government also froze US$40m of his assets held in Hong Kong.

Never one to shy away from attention, Dotcom arrived at the court dressed all in black in his large black Mercedes G55 V8 Kompressor that had been seized by New Zealand police and then later released back to him. It sports the license plate 'KIM.COM'.

The hearing itself comprised a long and dull list of legal challenges and claims, prompting reporters to focus on the fact that Dotcom was sitting in his own special ergonomic chair. The same reporters then tested out various creative ways to highlight the fact that he is really quite fat.

Not gaining anywhere near as much attention, though, are his three former colleagues who are also under extradition charges: Finn Batato, Mathias Ortmann, and Bram van der Kolk.

Why so long?

The hearing has been delayed thanks to a very thorough dig into New Zealand's extradition laws by Dotcom's lawyers, an examination that has reportedly cost him NZ$10m (US$6.3m), and has taken up 29,344 hours of legal work and NZ$5.8 million in fees by the New Zealand Crown Law Office.

An error in the paperwork saw the court agree that Dotcom's property had been seized without proper notice (the wrong type of warrant was used). There have also been arguments over what evidence can be produced, how the actual legislation for extradition works, whether the US needed to provide evidence of its claims before the process could begin, and a host of other issues.

In the end, in order to get the case moving, the judge decided that he could deal with a number of outstanding issues as a part of the hearing – leading to the dull and legalistic first day.

The hearing is expected to take weeks and it may not be resolved for years since either side is able to appeal the decision. If he is sent to the US, Dotcom will face charges of copyright infringement, money laundering, and conspiracy to commit racketeering.

However, even the judge in the US case has questioned whether it will ever get to court, and law professor and now US presidential candidate Lawrence Lessig has said he doesn't think the case against Dotcom is on sufficient grounds for extradition to the US.

Dotcom's lawyers argue that the prosecution has to show he carried out a criminal offense under both US and New Zealand law in order to extradite him. So far, none of them have been charged with having broken a New Zealand law. The prosecution argues that it only needs to show that he is possibly guilty of an offense in the US.

According to Dotcom himself, the issue is much simpler: it's a case of "Internet freedom or censorship."

The extradition hearing is not the only case Kim Dotcom is involved in right now. He is also challenging the US government seizure of his assets in Hong Kong back in January 2012. Following challenges from Dotcom's lawyers, a judge recently threw out the US government's legal order, although the assets remain locked up for now. A hearing is planned Monday. ®

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