Despite denials from the New Zealand government, German-born Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom maintains in a new documentary he was hung out to dry by the Kiwi government in its rush to assist the US.
In Kim Dotcom: Caught in the Web, the man behind one of the world’s most infamous file sharing websites Megaupload claims the NZ government only granted him residency in 2010 as part of a plan to assist the FBI in extraditing him to the US.
“They gave me residency for the purpose of extradition,” Dotcom asserts in the documentary, which screened on Monday at the South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas.
BuzzFeed put Dotcom's allegation to the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, the division responsible for immigration, and was told by adviser Marc Piercey that “no Ministers played any part in the process”.
“The decision to grant residence to Mr Dotcom under the Investor Plus Category was made solely by Immigration New Zealand,” he said.
Kim Dotcom: Caught in the Web was made over the past three years by New Zealand director Annie Goldson and producer Alexander Behse.
It charts the story of Dotcom’s rise to infamy, from his teenage years in Germany to expat life in Hong Kong as the founder of one of the world’s largest pirating sites.
Megaupload was a torrent site, a place people discovered pirated movies that were distributed and consumed for free. The FBI and Department of Justice in the US claimed Megaupload had seen US$175 million flow into its coffers via subscription fees and other income, costing the film industry at least half a billion dollars in lost revenue.
Following the FBI’s 2012 closure of Megaupload, and a police raid the same year at the rented Auckland mansion he shared with his wife and children, Dotcom’s life has been consumed by a court battle.
He and his Megaupload cofounders – Finn Batato, Mathias Ortmann, and Bram van der Kolk – are fighting extradition to the US, where they will face multiple charges of criminal copyright violation.
In a lengthy interview with Goldson, Dotcom claimed an email he allegedly received from the perpetrator of the Sony Pictures hack supported the claim of Hollywood and political intervention in his case.
The email, shown as a printout in the film, is allegedly between a Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) staff member and an employee of Warner Bros. In it, the MPAA staffer writes that Kim Dotcom has a “...one way ticket to Virginia” [indictments against Dotcom and his colleagues were filed in the US state of Virginia].
The accusation from Dotcom is that at the time of his arrest there were deep connections between the MPAA and the US government, specifically the Obama Administration, and also the NZ government and police who worked with the FBI to investigate and then arrest Dotcom and his business associates.
In 2014, when the alleged email first surfaced, Paul McGuire, Warner Bros. senior vice president for worldwide communications, told New Zealand journalist David Fisher the email was fabricated.
Ancillary issues detailed in the film – the court case and the legislative amendments that established the parameters for mass domestic surveillance in New Zealand - have been thoroughly reported since 2012 by Auckland-based investigative reporter David Fisher and the Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald.
There is little new information in Goldson and Behse’s film, and the key question – was the extradition of Kim Dotcom a factor in the John Key-led government’s negotiations with the US film industry to secure the production of major film projects? – remains unanswered.
In 2012, the year DotCom was arrested, John Key’s government confirmed it would contribute more than NZ$100 million to the production and marketing of the Warner Bros. The Hobbit trilogy.
Statistics New Zealand reported in April 2012 that The Hobbit production had contributed more than NZ$2.4 billion to the New Zealand economy in the year prior.
Greg Sandoval, a tech reporter for CNET, said it was reasonable that people questioned whether Hollywood applied pressure to US president Barack Obama to take down Megaupload.
He told Goldson: “You get between America and its money and you’re going to have big problems.”
When Annie Goldson is not making films she is a Professor at the University of Auckland teaching screen production and theory. BuzzFeed met Goldson and German-born Behse in Melbourne last week, days before the world premiere of the film in Austin.
They had just released a trailer for the film and Kim Dotcom was swift to issue a provocation, writing on Twitter: “The documentary about my case was majority funded by the NZ government. Let’s see if it’s fair, balanced and independent.”
The funding to which he refers is via the NZ Film Commission, and Goldson told BuzzFeed neither the commission nor a government representative made editorial suggestions at any point in the production or edit process. The government and police declined to be interviewed for the film.
Goldson says: “Kim is someone who has always been clever at controlling his image. He’s always liked media coverage and he’s certainly self-documented himself - even at 18 you see him carefully releasing some of his activities to the media.”
It took two years for Dotcom to agree to speak with Goldson, who was determined not to produce a hagiography nor a hatchet job.
"The film is not pro Kim, it includes a range of positions towards Megaupload and its operation,” Goldson said. “But I feel his story, his stand on certain things, has raised a lot of issues that are important for us all and that we should all consider pretty deeply.”
One such issue is piracy and copyright infringement. On Twitter days before the documentary premiere Dotcom released a poll (presumably tongue-and-cheek).
And then declared: “This will be the most pirated documentary in history & if all the studies are correct this will translate into great sales #dotcomfilm @mpaa”
Kim Dotcom is currently in the process of appealing the High Court’s decision in February in favour of the US extradition request.
Marc Piercey told BuzzFeed that New Zealand immigration was assessing Mr Dotcom’s residency status and potential liability for deportation, following the discovery that he had concealed a criminal conviction in his residency application.
“It is not possible to say how long the process will take,” he said.
Kim DotCom: Caught in the Web premieres at South By Southwest fim festival on March 13, 2017.