Gun fear in Dotcom raid
Pictures of Megaupload millionaire Kim Dotcom carrying a shotgun were part of the reason the country's elite police team were brought in to arrest him, a court has heard.
The police officer charged with locating and detaining Dotcom on the day of his arrest opened his notebook to scrutiny in the High Court at Auckland yesterday amid heavy suppression orders surrounding any images, footage and documents relating to the January 20 raid by the Special Tactics Group (STG).
The warrants issued for the raid have since been ruled illegal by Justice Helen Winkelmann.
Lawyers are now going over what happened on the day of the raid in the hope it will help determine what could legally be done to remedy the situation for Dotcom.
US authorities claim Dotcom and his three co-accused - Mathias Ortmann, Fin Batato and Bram van der Kolk - used the Megaupload website and its affiliated sites to knowingly make money from pirated movies and games.
They are facing copyright infringement and money laundering charges, and extradition from New Zealand.
The STG sergeant, who has interim name suppression, told the court he was approached by the head of the Organised Financial Crime Agency New Zealand, Detective Inspector Grant Wormald, about the raid on Dotcom's mansion only a few days before it happened.
During their conversation, Dotcom was identified as the prime suspect, to be secured as soon as possible to prevent the destruction of evidence.
The sergeant said the second suspect was bodyguard Wayne Tempero. He had made several notes about Tempero, including his alleged association with the Head Hunters gang and his history as a well-trained security expert.
The sergeant also noted Dotcom had a current and an ex-police officer on his security team. The current officer had possible experience with the Diplomatic Protection Squad.
He said the information about the security staff was noted as a potential risk to the officers involved in the raid as those with police experience would be more aware of officers' vulnerabilities.
Dotcom's lawyer, Paul Davison, QC, pointed out the differences between the information provided on Dotcom and that on the serving officer - which was so scant STG staff didn't know his last name.
When Davidson asked if further information on the current police officer was a "notable omission" in the details provided to police, the sergeant answered "yes".
The sergeant admitted the raid was more rushed than the group preferred because of time constraints. He agreed that it was possible that had there been more time the STG may not have been used at all.
He also admitted the group had not previously been used for a fraud arrest.
The sergeant defended the decision to undertake the raid, and the manner in which it was conducted.
Information provided to the STG by OFCANZ said Dotcom had access to weapons and was "exhibiting violence". The file included pictures of Dotcom grinning and holding a shotgun. It also said there was a "reasonable risk of injury or death" to police from Dotcom or those on his property.
Asked if he believed there truly was a risk of death or injury, the sergeant answered "no". Davison queried why, given Dotcom employed a police officer, why they didn't just approach him for information.
The sergeant couldn't say why that didn't happen, or how the assessment of risk was made because he didn't fill out the forms.
Davison also questioned the sergeant about a note saying "over the top?" written in the sergeant's superior's notebook next to a line about the possible use of aircraft in the raid. A helicopter was used to transport STG staff onto Dotcom's Coatesville mansion.
The sergeant said the note was made during discussions of tactics. He said he and his superior came to the conclusion "early on" that a full tactical response was not appropriate. But said a "full response" would have included using the Defence Force's Iroquois helicopters rather than the Police Eagle helicopters.
The sergeant said ideally, the STG would have used a "Trojan Horse" approach - where a vehicle went into the grounds with officers hidden inside. However, a helicopter was deemed faster. Vans were used to bring in extra officers, he said.
The fact the case was fraud related was not the only consideration in calling in the STG, he said. The group was used in situations where there was a propensity for violence. In this case, there were firearms on the property - as exhibited by the photos of Dotcom with guns - and experienced security personnel.
The STG was called in to assist with the raid as a "precaution" he said, and in the end he didn't consider the operation "over the top".
Meanwhile, a top secret "blue book" of evidence relating to the police raids on Kim Dotcom's mansion has been suppressed by the court as the legal debate over the millionaire's arrest continues.
The folder, presented yesterday during a hearing at the High Court in Auckland, contains video footage, photos and documents relating to the contentious January 20 raid, conducted by the Special Tactics Group.
The Crown asked for it be kept secret because police feared the capabilities of the elite police unit may be compromised by public scrutiny.
Media have stringently opposed the suppression. A separate argument about suppression will now be held this morning.
- © Fairfax NZ News