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A New Zealand police officer overseeing plans for a raid on the home of Kim Dotcom, the Megaupload.com website founder, questioned whether the use of helicopters was “over the top,” according to court testimony.
Dotcom, accused of orchestrating the biggest copyright infringement conspiracy in U.S. history, is attempting to prove the Jan. 20 search and seizure of his property were unreasonable. He is seeking recovery of computers and hard drives that were taken by police.
The officer’s comments are in notes for a review of the plan to use two helicopters, two SWAT-like special tactical group squads and five other teams of body-armored police with assault rifles to execute the warrant on a fraud charge, according to Paul Davison, one of Dotcom’s lawyers arguing the case in Auckland High Court.
The New Zealand officer wrote: “over the top -- Fraud?” according to Davison. The officer approved the raid and his bosses signed off on the decision, as did the commissioner of police, according to court testimony.
Helen Winkelmann, the chief justice of the High Court of New Zealand, overseeing the case, banned the publication of the names of the officers involved.
The police officer, who led the raid and was responsible for finding Dotcom in the house, testified it was the first time to his knowledge that the tactical team was deployed to exercise a search warrant on a fraud charge.
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.
New Zealand police acted on information from the FBI in the U.S., whose agents were also involved in the raid, that Dotcom had the capability to delete information from servers around the world and may have had a safe room in the home and access to firearms, the officer leading the raid testified.
Earlier today, Dotcom testified there was no such thing as a “doomsday switch.”
“I’m a marketing guy,” Dotcom said. He didn’t even have passwords to access data on the servers, which were located in the U.S., Canada and Netherlands, he said.
German-born Dotcom, who legally changed his name from Kim Schmitz, was arrested at his residence and spent four weeks in jail before being released to await the extradition hearing.
Dotcom testified today he was beaten by police, although he didn’t resist arrest and waited with his hands raised.
The Dotcom mansion is valued at NZ$30 million ($25 million), according to an article on the stuff.co.nz website. The property is also known as the “Chrisco mansion,” because it was built by the founders of a Christmas hamper company of the same name.
Winkelmann had ruled June 28 that police had relied on illegal warrants that were overly broad.
An extradition hearing is scheduled for March.
“We don’t have access to data that would allow us to prepare for the extradition hearing,” Dotcom testified.
Davison said police reports justifying the use of the tactical team to carry out the raid had a “raft of misleading information” including that Dotcom had threatened to kill or injure people and that using regular police would put officers in harm’s way.
“Do you know of anything that would justify an affirmative answer” to those questions, Davison asked the officer in charge of the raid.
“No sir,” the officer replied.
The decision to approve the tactical raid was based on the unknown response officers would get at the home, Dotcom’s use of former police officers and military for security, concern that Dotcom would barricade himself in the home and that he would destroy evidence needed to prosecute him in the U.S., the officer said.
The raid on his home was unnecessary, Dotcom said. Police would have been allowed access had they knocked on the door, or they could have arrested him 90 minutes earlier as he was leaving a recording studio, Dotcom testified.
Instead, the luxury home was damaged during the raid, with glass doors smashed and Dotcom beaten and kicked during the arrest, he said.
“Our beautiful home was turned into a haunted house,” Dotcom told the judge. “Life is not the same after what happened.”
The case is between Kim Dotcom and Attorney-General. Civ 2012-404-1928. High Court of New Zealand (Auckland).
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