It’s been several years since we reported on Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom and his battle against extradition to the US, but now, an update. Two of Dotcom’s former colleagues have struck a deal to avoid extradition themselves, pleading guilty Wednesday in New Zealand to their involvement in running the once wildly popular pirating website Megaupload. The pleas by Mathias Ortmann and Bram van der Kolk at the Auckland High Court ended their 10-year legal battle to avoid extradition to the US on charges that included racketeering, reports the AP.
Those charges will be dropped under a deal with prosecutors from both countries after the pair pleaded guilty to being part of a criminal group and causing artists to lose money by deception. They’ve been released on bail pending sentencing and face up to 10 years in prison. The US is still seeking to extradite Dotcom, who also lives in New Zealand and has said he now expects his former colleagues to testify against him.
Prosecutors say Megaupload raked in at least $175 million—mainly from people who used the site to illegally download songs, TV shows, and movies—before the FBI shut it down in early 2012 and arrested Dotcom and other company officers. Ortmann told news website Stuff that after a decade of living in New Zealand on bail, the pair had firm roots in the country and were contributing to society through Mega, a legitimate cloud-storage website they set up after their arrest. “We’ve worked incredibly hard on Mega and we strongly feel that our rehabilitation process has started a long time ago,” van der Kolk told Stuff.
Lawyers for Dotcom and the other men had long argued that if anybody was guilty in the case, it was the users of the site who chose to pirate material, not the founders. But prosecutors argued the men were the architects of a vast criminal enterprise. Dotcom and the two other men were once close friends but had a falling out after their arrest and subsequent work on the Mega website. Last year, New Zealand’s Supreme Court ruled the trio could be extradited. But the nation’s justice minister has yet to make a final decision on whether the extradition—now just of Dotcom—will go ahead. Even that decision could be appealed and spend still more time in the slow-moving New Zealand legal system.
(Read more MegaUpload stories.)