New Zealand search warrants used in a 2012 raid on the home of Kim Dotcom were valid, an appeal court found, bolstering a U.S. case for extraditing him on charges including copyright infringement.
A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeal of New Zealand today overturned a lower court ruling that found the warrants were overly broad and illegal. The appeal court affirmed a decision that duplicating data seized in Dotcom’s home and moving it to the U.S. was illegal.
Dotcom, 40, founder of the file-sharing website Megaupload.com, was indicted in Virginia in January, 2012, on racketeering, money laundering, copyright infringement and wire fraud charges. Relying on illegal warrants would have made the seizure of evidence illegal, potentially hampering the U.S. in its bid to extradite Dotcom from New Zealand.
Historically, if the New Zealand law prohibiting unreasonable searches is breached, the remedy “has been the prima facie exclusion of evidence in subsequent criminal proceedings,” according to the Ministry of Justice.
Dotcom’s legal team “is reviewing the rulings made by the Court of Appeal and will likely seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court,” Dotcom’s lawyer Ira Rothken said in a posting on Twitter today after the ruling was released.
Dotcom, who has started a political party in New Zealand, tweeted: “That’s why a political case needs to be fought politically. Not just in the courts.”
New Zealand police, acting on information from the FBI and with assistance from U.S. agents, used two helicopters and two SWAT-like special tactic group squads as well as five other teams of body-armored police to raid Dotcom’s mansion on the outskirts of Auckland. He was arrested and spent a month in jail before being released on bail.
Dotcom, born in Germany as Kim Schmitz, is a resident of New Zealand and legally changed his name. He faces as long as 20 years in prison for each conviction in the U.S. on the racketeering and money laundering charge.
“It is clear that Mr. Dotcom understood from the warrants and the police explanations that allegations of copyright infringement were involved,” the appeal panel said in its ruling. “The defects in the search warrants were not so radical as to require the warrants to be treated as nullities. Rather, they were defects in form, not substance.”
The U.S. extradition bid had stalled as Dotcom has challenged the legality of the raids, seizures and spying on him.
New Zealand High Court Justice Helen Winkelmann, who ruled the warrants were illegal, also ordered police to return some equipment to Dotcom and gave him permission to sue New Zealand’s spy agency for intercepting his communications.
The extradition hearing, initially scheduled for August, 2012, is now due to be held in April.
The case is Between Her Majesty’s Attorney-General and Kim Dotcom. 2014/NZCA19. Court of Appeal of New Zealand
To contact the reporter on this story: Joe Schneider in Sydney at firstname.lastname@example.org