By Ian Llewellyn
Wellington (dpa) – Kim Dotcom, the man accused of running one of the world’s largest internet piracy operations, has been arrested more than once, has used multiple aliases and drives a car with a number plate that says “GOD.”
The 37-year-old who changed his name from Kim Schmitz was born in Kiel in northern Germany but was running Megaupload, a Hong Kong-based internet file-sharing company, from New Zealand, where he became a resident a few years ago.
The company caused the arrest of its founder and three of his associates Friday at Dotcom’s home outside Auckland after US authorities shut down Megaupload and indicted seven of its leaders, alleging copyright infringements. The other three suspects remained at large.
Dotcom, who has also been known as Kimble and Kim Tim Jim Vestor, had a chequered business career before he set up Megaupload. He was given a two-year suspended sentence for computer hacking and had convictions for credit card fraud and insider trading.
In 2001, Doctom (then Schmitz) purchased 375,000 US dollars of shares of the nearly bankrupt online retailer LetsBuyIt.com and announced he would invest millions. The share values rocketed 300 per cent. He then sold his shares for a 1.5-million-dollar profit, but the deal earned him the insider trading conviction in Germany.
In New Zealand, he first made headlines when he tried to buy one of New Zealand’s most expensive homes, a mansion at Coatesville, 30 kilometres north-west of Auckland.
New Zealand officials originally granted him permission to buy the 25-million-US-dollar property, but ministers stepped in and denied the request, saying he did not meet the “good character” test and instead he rented the property.
Despite this knockback, Dotcom’s application for residency was approved last year after he invested 10 million New Zealand dollars (8 million US dollars) in government bonds and made a donation to the Christchurch earthquake fund.
At the time, Dotcom admitted two convictions, one for hacking and another for insider trading.
Dotcom said the convictions were wiped under a German “clean slate” law, TV3 reported.
“Officially, I am as clean as it gets,” he told the New Zealand network.
Dotcom has little to do with the Auckland social circuit and lived largely behind the walls of the mansion surrounded by bodyguards and parkland. Police yesterday had to break into a ‘panic room’ behind sophisticated electronic protections measures, where they found Schmitz with a sawn-off shotgun nearby.
He had posted videos displaying his expensive tastes, including driving a Mercedes around a golf course and spending 1 million New Zealand dollars on a public fireworks display in Auckland in 2010.
His Megaupload venture – through which users can download music, movies, television shows and books, many of which, US authorities said, are illegally copied – managed to fund a lavish lifestyle as he ran it as part of his Megaworld ventures, which include Megaupload, Megavideo and Megalive.
However, it also became the focus for many Hollywood studios, media companies and the US government, which saw him as a copyright violator.
Many on the other side of the ledger saw him as a free speech entrepreneur, and he received the backing of many recording artists for his work.
On Friday, a New Zealand court ordered him remanded into custody until a hearing Monday.
He faces 55 years in prison if extradited and convicted in the United States on charges of conspiracy to commit racketeering, conspiring to commit copyright infringement and conspiring to commit money laundering.
Now the man with a taste for expensive cars and the good life will be fighting a legal battle to avoid US prison.
KIM SCHMITZ’ FIREWORKS DISPLAY OVER AUCKLAND CITY, DEC 31 2010