RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom is not entitled to contest the forfeiture of an estimated $67 million in frozen assets because he’s a fugitive facing extradition, a federal judge ruled.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady comes even as Dotcom continues to fight his extradition from New Zealand to the United States.
The federal government has been pursuing claims against Megaupload and Dotcom for years, charging they are engaged in an international criminal conspiracy to profit from widespread copyright infringement and launder the proceeds. Prosecutors estimate Dotcom has defrauded copyright holders out of more than $500 million.
In an indictment unsealed in February 2012, Dotcom, whose given name is Kim Schmitz, was charged with conspiracy to commit racketeering, criminal copyright infringement, conspiracy to commit copyright infringement, aiding and abetting of copyright infringement and conspiracy to commit money laundering. A separate indictment added wire fraud charges to the list.
Since then, however, Dotcom has repeatedly tried to stymie the process, claiming, among other things, that the government has failed to state a proper claim and can’t possibly prove any of its allegations.
Last year, New Zealand agreed to extend two foreign restraining orders, one for Dotcom and his wife and the other for one of his co-defendants, Bram van der Kolk. The restraining orders, which regulate the bank accounts of the accused, were set to expire in April, according to court documents.
“New Zealand law does not provide for further extension of the restraining orders,” said Judge O’Grady wrote.
Invoked by the U.S. in their motion to strike, common law fugitive disentitlement limits a defendant’s right to appeal a criminal charge if he is considered to be in fugitive status, the judge said.
According to the ruling, Dotcom, who still resides in New Zealand and is a dual citizen of Germany and Finland, has never held residence or even visited the U.S.
Dotcom has said he is willing to stand trial in the U.S. if the government agrees to unfreeze a portion of his assets to cover living expenses and litigation costs.
“It is certainly relevant that Dotcom has never been to the United States and that he has lived in New Zealand since 2011, where he resides with his family,” O’Grady said.
“However, the existence of other motivations does not preclude a finding that he also has a specific intent to avoid criminal prosecution. Dotcom’s statements, made publicly and conveyed by his attorneys to the government, indicate that he is only willing to face prosecution in this country on his own terms.”
Because Dotcom filed on behalf of the corporate claimants named in the suit and as a major shareholder of the corporate claimants, the corporations Mega named in the case are also subject to forfeiture, the ruling says.
“Dotcom has indicated through his statements that he wishes to defend against the government’s criminal charges and litigate his rights in the forfeiture action. If it is truly his intent to do so, then he may submit to the jurisdiction of the United States,” O’Grady said.
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