With his Teutonic accent, imposing bulk and penchant for black clothing, alleged Internet pirate Kim Dotcom looks every inch the Hollywood bad guy — even admitting to basing his image on the Bond movie villains he loved as a child.
But Dotcom is involved in a high-stakes legal battle with the very studios that created those characters, resulting in an Auckland court case next week in which he will fight a US bid to extradite him from New Zealand.
The German insists he is a legitimate Internet entrepreneur, denying claims from the FBI and US entertainment industry that his Megaupload empire promoted online theft on a grand scale.
“I’m an easy target, they needed a villain who’s rich, flamboyant and over-the-top like me,” he said in 2013, after yet another twist in the lengthy legal saga.
The case began almost four years ago when dozens of armed police from the Special Tactics Group staged a dawn helicopter raid on Dotcom’s Auckland mansion.
Among the artefacts they found were a pink 1959 Cadillac and a life-size statue of the dreadlocked monster from the Predator movies.
Since then, the case has only become more bizarre, involving illegal spying, political intrigue and claims it could impact on the activities of Internet users everywhere.
Born Kim Schmitz in Kiel, northern Germany in 1974, Dotcom changed his name in 2005, around the same time he established Megaupload.
The website was an early example of cloud computing, allowing users to upload large files onto a server so others could easily download them without clogging up their email systems.
At its height in 2011, Megaupload claimed to have 50 million daily users and account for four percent of the world’s Internet traffic.
The problem, according to an FBI indictment, was that many of the files shared were copyright-protected films and music.
Investigators allege Megaupload encouraged illegal sharing to increase its traffic, only paying lip service to “take down” notices from those who owned the intellectual property.
In all, they claim Megaupload netted more than $175 million in criminal proceeds and cost copyright owners $500 million-plus by offering pirated content.
It made Dotcom a very rich man and he indulged his love for motor racing and luxury yachts.
“I was inspired by the James Bond movies. You know, where some characters had private islands and super tankers converted into yachts and space stations and luxury homes?” he told the US 60 Minutes programme last year.
Dotcom’s wealth also allowed him to move to New Zealand under an investment scheme in 2010, despite a chequered past as a hacker and an insider trading conviction that would normally have kept him out.
By then, Megaupload was on the radar of the FBI and US Justice Department, who were investigating what they dubbed “the Mega conspiracy” at the urging of the US entertainment industry.
That culminated in the raid on the sprawling Dotcom mansion and the demolition of the Megaupload empire, kick-starting a legal saga that shows no sign of ending.
There have been plenty of sideshows along the way, including an apology from New Zealand’s prime minister over illegal spying on Dotcom and a disastrous foray into politics by the big German.
But the main game remains the FBI indictment, which could see Dotcom jailed for up to 20 years if he is extradited from New Zealand and convicted in a US court.
Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell outlined the US case earlier this year when a low-level Megaupload programmer, Andrus Nomm, was jailed for 12 months after accepting a plea bargain.
“The Mega conspirators are charged with massive worldwide online piracy of movies, music and other copyrighted US works,” she said.
“We intend to see to it that all those responsible are held accountable for illegally enriching themselves by stealing the creative work of US artists.”
The charges against Dotcom and his three co-accused — ex-Megaupload executives Finn Batato, Mathias Ortmann, and Bram van der Kolk — include fraud, racketeering and money laundering.
Dotcom’s lawyers will argue such serious criminal charges are normally only levelled against gangsters and is evidence of a “gunslinger attitude to the rule of law”.
They say even if Dotcom is guilty of copyright infringement — which he denies — it is normally only a civil offence that would not warrant extradition from New Zealand.
And they warn ordinary Internet users could be caught in the cross hairs if the prosecution of Dotcom as a criminal kingpin succeeds.
“The US actions against Kim Dotcom set a frightening precedent for the basic rights of Internet users and innovators of new technologies,” his legal team said in a 2013 position paper.
The extradition hearing opens Monday with procedural argument before getting down to the real substance from Thursday.
Only one outcome seems certain — Dotcom, like the Bond villains who inspired him, will continue to fight until he achieves world domination or is destroyed in the process.