New Zealand police used the best people for the job in conducting a raid on the home of Megaupload.com founder Kim Dotcom and achieved what they wanted, the officer in charge of the operation testified.
The January raid with two helicopters and 27 police officers, some armed with assault rifles and gas canisters, was an attack on the freedoms guaranteed to New Zealand residents under the country’s bill of rights, Dotcom’s lawyer Paul Davison responded yesterday, on the third day of a hearing in Auckland High Court.
“Police aren’t every day going into houses armed to the teeth,” Davison said. “That’s not the ordinary police practice around the country.”
Dotcom, accused of orchestrating the biggest copyright infringement in U.S. history, is attempting to prove the search and seizure of his rented home in New Zealand as unreasonable under the country’s bill of rights. The claim is part of his attempt to recover computers and hard drives taken by police, which he said are needed to prepare a defense for a March extradition hearing to the U.S. on charges of criminal copyright fraud and racketeering.
Detective Inspector Grant Wormald, who supervised the planning and the operation of the raid, said weeks were spent assessing the best way to carry out the arrests of Dotcom and his associates and the potential threats officers would face.
Dotcom had been caught speeding at 149 kilometers an hour (93 miles per hour) in his car, footage was posted on the Internet of him driving through a police checkpoint, images of him posing with shotguns were available and there was a “real risk” he or his associates could destroy evidence, Wormald said.
As a result police concluded they needed to use helicopters to execute a swift entry into Dotcom’s mansion in an Auckland suburb and make quick arrests, he said. The country’s Special Tactics Group, a SWAT-like team, are the only police officers qualified to use helicopters, he said.
“They were the best people for the job,” Wormald said.
Wormald said there was no precedent to use the STG in New Zealand on a fraud-like charge with no threat of violence.
New Zealand residents are guaranteed freedom from unreasonable search and seizure by Section 21 of the country’s bill of rights, Davison said.
“The household is a haven and a private place,” Davison said. “Sanctity of that is not to be intruded upon.”
Davison said Dotcom had been cooperative with police in the past and even offered to donate a car to the police force.
“I doubt very much police would accept the offer,” Wormald said, adding that a NZ$60,000 ($49,000) car donation could be seen as potentially buying favors.
“That’s a very cynical interpretation,” Davison responded.
Earlier, Allan Langille, supervising analyst at New Zealand police’s electronic crime laboratory, testified the force seized almost everything in the home that could store digital information.
“I didn’t know what evidence they were looking for,” Langille said referring to the FBI, who had requested New Zealand’s help in carrying out the arrests and seizures.
Dotcom, 38, was indicted in what U.S. prosecutors dubbed a “Mega Conspiracy,” accusing his file-sharing website of generating more than $175 million in criminal proceeds from the exchange of pirated film, music, book and software files. He faces as long as 20 years in prison for each of the racketeering and money-laundering charges in the indictment, with the U.S. seeking his extradition for a trial in Virginia.
During the day of the raid, Dotcom’s then-pregnant wife, expecting twins, began to have contractions and sought to go to a hospital, Davison said. Police refused to provide transportation and only offered to call the emergency 111 number to summon an ambulance, he said.
“You come on their property,” seize all their communication, all their mobile phones, all their cars “and all you were doing is facilitating a 111 call,” Davison told Detective Sergeant Stephen Humphries, who was in charge of executing the search warrant and dealing with the family and staff. “That’s a pathetic response.”
“We’re police officers, not medical staff,” Humphries responded. He said if Mrs. Dotcom had been in medical trouble police would have helped.
Police seized 123 items during the raid, from mobile phones, to routers, as well as hard drives and computers, Davison said, with the FBI conducting all analysis on the seized devices.
“The impression I had was there was potentially evidence on any digital storage device,” Langille testified.
Dotcom, who was born in Germany and legally changed his name from Kim Schmitz, had testified Aug. 7 some of the digital storage devices contained more than 350 hours of personal videos and pictures.
“Every aspect of our life has been documented over the past 10 years,” he said.
Justice Helen Winkelmann had ruled June 28 that police had relied on illegal warrants that were overly broad.
The case is between Kim Dotcom and Attorney-General. Civ 2012-404-1928. High Court of New Zealand (Auckland).