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CRIME

Internet ‘scammer’ freed in surprise move

German Megaupload.com boss Kim Dotcom was freed on bail in a surprise move Wednesday, after a New Zealand judge dismissed fears he would flee the country to escape US online piracy charges.

Internet 'scammer' freed in surprise move
Photo: DPA

The 38-year-old German national said he was happy to be released following a month in custody after New Zealand police, cooperating with a major US probe, raided his sprawling “Dotcom Mansion” in Auckland.

Dotcom’s lawyer Paul Davison said his client remained determined to fight US allegations that he masterminded “massive worldwide online piracy” through file-sharing webite Megaupload and associated sites.

“My client’s proposition is that the case they have presented doesn’t have any substantial basis at all and when it is analysed and revealed for what it is, that will be the view that prevails,” he said.

The bail decision is a setback for US authorities, who are seeking to extradite Dotcom and three others arrested in the January 20 raid.

Two previous bail hearings had accepted the prosecution case that the Internet millionaire was an “extreme flight risk” because he had the wealth and possible criminal connections to slip out of the country if he wanted.

But Judge Nevin Dawson said the danger of Dotcom fleeing had diminished because all his funds had been seized and investigators had not uncovered any new bank accounts or assets in his name since his arrest.

“It would seem that he has every reason to stay to be with his family and to fight to keep his significant assets,” Dawson said.

He granted Dotcom bail but barred him from accessing the Internet and booking helicopter flights, ordering him to stay in his Auckland property unless there was a medical emergency.

Dotcom, who allegedly earned $42 million from his Internet business in 2010 alone, declined to comment on his case, aside from saying his treatment by New Zealand police “resembled an audition for American Idol.”

“I’m relieved to go home and see my family, my three little kids and my pregnant wife,” he told reporters.

The US Justice Department and FBI allege Megaupload and related sites netted more than $175 million in criminal proceeds and cost copyright owners over $500 million by offering pirated copies of movies, TV shows and other content.

Megaupload was founded in 2005 but shut down last month when its assets were frozen as part of the US probe.

A US application for Dotcom’s extradition is expected to be heard on August 20. US authorities have said they will seek the maximum penalty of 20 years in jail if he is brought before a US court.

The three other Megaupload executives arrested with Dotcom, who legally changed his name from Kim Schmitz, had already been granted bail.

The raid on Dotcom’s home netted a 1959 pink Cadillac, numerous other luxury cars and valuable artworks.

Since his arrest, there has been a steady stream of media revelations about his extravagant lifestyle, including claims his mansion had a swimming pool filled with imported spring water and gold toilet roll holders.

The portly millionaire also reportedly had a butler in his mansion whose duties included retrieving stray ping pong balls when Dotcom was playing table tennis.

Prime Minister John Key said this month that since Dotcom’s arrival in New Zealand in early 2010, his office had received complaints from the public about loud parties and cars speeding around the mansion, which is in his electorate.

Key said his staff had passed the complaints on to police.

A documentary uploaded online shows Dotcom, surrounded by topless women, spraying champagne on board a superyacht during a “crazy weekend” in Monaco that reportedly cost $10 million.

“Fast cars, hot girls, superyachts and amazing parties. Decadence rules,” said the blurb accompanying the documentary, which Dotcom dedicated to “all my fans.”

AFP/mdm

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GERMANY AND ISRAEL

Germany in talks on further payout for 1972 Olympics victims

The German government says it is in talks over further compensation for victims of the attack on the Munich Olympics, as the 50th anniversary of the atrocity approaches.

Germany in talks on further payout for 1972 Olympics victims

Ahead of the commemoration in September, relatives of the Israelis killed have indicated they are unhappy with what Germany is offering.

“Conversations based on trust are taking place with representatives of the victims’ families,” a German interior ministry spokesman told AFP when asked about the negotiations.

He did not specify who would benefit or how much money had been earmarked, saying only that any package would “again” be financed by the federal government, the state of Bavaria and the city of Munich.

On September 5th, 1972, eight gunmen broke into the Israeli team’s flat at the Olympic village, shooting dead two and taking nine Israelis hostage, threatening to kill them unless 232 Palestinian prisoners were released.

West German police responded with a bungled rescue operation in which all nine hostages were killed, along with five of the eight hostage-takers and a police officer.

An armed police officer in a tracksuit secures the block where terrorists  held Israeli hostages at the Olympic Village in Munich on 5th September 1972.

An armed police officer in a tracksuit secures the block where terrorists held Israeli hostages at the Olympic Village in Munich on 5th September 1972. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Horst Ossingert

The spokeswoman for the victims’ families, Ankie Spitzer, told the German media group RND that the amount currently on the table was “insulting” and threatened a boycott of this year’s commemorations.

She said Berlin was offering a total of €10 million including around €4.5 million already provided in compensation between 1972 and 2002 — an amount she said did not correspond to international standards. 

“We are angry and disappointed,” said Spitzer, the widow of fencing coach Andre Spitzer who was killed in the attack. “We never wanted to talk publicly about money but now we are forced to.”

RND reported that the German and Israeli governments would like to see an accord by August 15th.

The interior ministry spokesman said that beyond compensation, Germany intended to use the anniversary for fresh “historical appraisal, remembrance and recognition”.

He said this would include the formation of a commission of German and Israeli historians to “comprehensively” establish what happened “from the perspective of the year 2022”.

This would lead to “an offer of further acts of acknowledgement of the relatives of the victims of the attack” and the “grave consequences” they suffered.

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