Dotcom fans rally for underdog
Public opinion can embrace some unlikely people as heroes. In this part of the world, public sympathy for colourful figures who defy authority is as old as Ned Kelly.
More recently, it has included the likes of George Wilder, the prison escaper who became a renegade folk hero in New Zealand during the early 1960s.
So we shouldn’t be surprised that the public seems to have taken flamboyant internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom so thoroughly to its heart.
Last week’s court ruling was the latest round in the Dotcom saga that began in January with the police raid on his Auckland mansion.
Essentially, the High Court has declared the warrant relied on by police to search Dotcom’s house was invalid, thus rendering illegal the seizure, copying and forwarding to the FBI of items found in the course of the police operation.
No-one yet knows what impact – if any – the court ruling will have on the more important question of whether Dotcom will be extradited to the United States to face a range of charges.
Logically though, one would have thought that since evidence illegally obtained by the police was ruled inadmissible in the recent trial of the Urewera raid defendants, the same standard would apply to the evidence unlawfully seized in the raid on Dotcom’s house.
American courts, of course, have the power to admit illegally obtained evidence if the charge involved is deemed to be serious enough.
However, before that point is reached, a New Zealand judge will need to rule on whether sufficient evidence exists for the extradition of Dotcom to proceed – and now the police actions may have sent almost all the evidence relevant to that decision into a legal limbo.
The last 12 months haven’t been happy ones for the police.
High-profile prosecutions have failed in the George Gwaze and Bill Liu cases.
The gains from the Urewera prosecutions fell well short of the original expectations, and the way the police have been dragged into political circuses such as the Epsom Tape and ACC investigations will have done nothing for the public’s faith in police neutrality.
Win or lose the extradition proceedings, Dotcom will still retain the option of suing the police for compensation over the violation of his privacy with an illegal warrant, and for the unlawful taking of his property. Fair enough, some would say. The dawn raid involving helicopters and 70 armed police always did look like overkill, like something more appropriate for an attack on the Bin Laden compound.
It suggests not only that police managers have been watching too many movies – but also, that our police were far too keen to comply with requests from their FBI colleagues to swoop on Dotcom’s mansion and grab everything in sight that might conceivably be useful to the Americans.
Such tactics serve to explain the groundswell of public sympathy for Dotcom. The chubby entrepreneur is now widely seen to have been the subject of heavyhanded police actions out of all proportion with the threat he poses to society.
After all, the main ‘‘ victims’’ of his alleged crimes are media corporations that are seen to be no friends of the public, or even of the artists whose interests they claim to represent.