Calling himself Kim Schmitz, Kim Dotcom, or sometimes just Kimble, the 39-year-old has become the unlikely poster boy of the internet freedom movement. He’s also one of the world’s most recognizable Germans in the past year. That’s partly because he is two meters (6ft 6ins) tall and weighs more than 130 kilos (285 pounds), and partly because he likes being photographed on private jets or yachts with Playboy bunnies.
His other well-documented predilections include gaming (he was until recently the world’s top ranked Modern Warfare 3 player), road-rallying, and personalized number plates on his Rolls Royces and Lamborghinis that read things like “God” and “CEO.”
On Sunday, the file-sharing mogul celebrated his latest launch – the follow-up to the legally problematic Megaupload site, named simply Mega – at his base in New Zealand. The launch of mega.co.nz was a typically brash affair, with an event part press conference, part fanfare show complete with showgirls.
Schmitz claimed that the new website – a cloud storage platform with encryption to ensure only users, not site administrators, know what is being uploaded – was the “fastest growing start-up in internet history,” with 100,000 users registering within an hour of launch.
But the site’s start was not smooth – on Tuesday, Schmitz had to apologize for Mega’s teething troubles, or, as he put it, “the bad quality of the service.”
His arrest by New Zealand police last January – at the behest of US authorities seeking his extradition on copyright infringement charges – was not Schmitz’s first brush with the law. Born in the northern German town of Kiel in 1974, Schmitz burst into the limelight in the 1990s, when he claimed he’d bypassed the security at NASA, the Pentagon and Citibank under his hacker pseudonym “Kimble.”
He was finally arrested in 1994 for trafficking stolen phone card numbers, and eventually served a two-year suspended sentence for computer fraud and data espionage.
Though the judge dismissed that crime as “youthful foolishness,” the German authorities were less forgiving about accusations of insider trading when he reportedly made a $1.5 million profit by buying up shares on a nearly bankrupt internet start-up, announcing he would invest heavily, and then selling them.
He fled to Thailand, was arrested, deported, received only a suspended sentence, then left Germany once again to live in Hong Kong.
There, he set up Kimpire Limited, and a network of related companies, including a hedge fund that fell foul of the Hong Kong authorities, and cost Schmitz a fine of 8,000 Hong Kong dollars.
In 2010, Schmitz was granted residency in New Zealand, with the authorities choosing to ignore his foreign convictions because he promised to invest more than $10 million in the country, via investment, philanthropic donations, and his gargantuan personal consumption.
In the meantime, the internet mogul had set up Megaupload, a cloud storage and file-sharing platform where millions of registered users kept copies of TV shows, movies, porn, and software. It was massively successful – at its height, the site was reported to be the 13th most popular website in the world and responsible for four percent of internet traffic.
Then last year, it all came crashing down with a big belly-flop. In an article written for the file-sharing blog TorrentFreak in 2011, Schmitz defended his reputation. “Steve Jobs was a hacker and Martha Stuart is doing well after her insider trading case. I think over a decade after all of this happened it should NOT be the dominating topic. I am 37 years old now, I am married, I have three adorable children with two more on the way (twin girls – yeah) and I know that I am not a bad person.”