29 Feb 2012

Court turns down US bid to keep Dotcom in jail

10:58 pm on 29 February 2012

A New Zealand court has turned down a bid by the United States government to have a tycoon accused of global internet piracy returned to jail.

German millionaire Kim Dotcom, who has New Zealand residency, and three other men are on bail while the US tries to extradite them to face charges including copyright infringement and wire fraud in relation to their file-sharing website Megaupload.

Mr Dotcom was arrested at his leased mansion near Auckland on 20 January this year and has been on bail since 22 February after two previous decisions to keep him in jail were overturned.

Mr Dotcom was granted bail in the North Shore District Court last week on the grounds that he was no longer a flight risk because the Crown had not been able to prove he had funds he could use to flee.

On Wednesday, the Crown on behalf of the US government appealed against that decision in the Auckland High Court, arguing that there was a risk there could be other funds as yet undiscovered.

However, Justice Brewer told the turned down the appeal, saying that, while there is no way to guarantee that Mr Dotcom would not flee the country, the risk is not enough to keep him in jail.

The fact Mr Dotcom is being electronically monitored while on bail is enough of an impediment to stop him leaving, the judge said.

"My task is to weigh the flight risk against the presumption of law that Mr Dotcom should have his liberty.

"Overall, I agree with the district court judge that the risk of flight, ameliorated by electronically-monitored bail, does not overturn that presumption."

A smiling Kim Dotcom emerged from court, telling media he is happy with the decision and that staying on bail will allow him to fight the charges on "a level playing field", giving him more time and access to his lawyers to prepare a defence.

Mr Dotcom said he is happy to be going home to his family.

"I'm very relieved today. I don't want to say anything else right now. I think it's better to let the events unfold. But, I can certainly say that a lot of people will be very surprised about the outcome of all of this."

Mr Dotcom will remain on bail until an extradition hearing in August.

Some funds released

The Auckland High Court also granted Kim Dotcom's request to have some funds excluded from an order seizing all his assets.

Millions of dollars worth of assets were seized in raids at the time of his arrest.

On Wednesday, the court allowed Mr Dotcom and his heavily pregnant wife Mona Dotcom to have $12,650 for medical expenses. The couple are also allowed $20,000 in living expenses and the use of a car.

The company Megastuff Ltd is to receive $74,000 to pay creditors.

The amounts are being released in the interim until another hearing in three weeks.

Earlier, Crown lawyer Anne Toohey told the court the amount requested, which equated to about $222,000 a month, is more than is needed.

Ms Toohey said Mr Dotcom's existing assets, such as items of art and jewellery, could be sold and properties rented out to cover the costs.

But Mr Dotcom's lawyer Willy Akel told the court the family wanted just $28,000 a month.