Immigration boss rejects Dotcom residency claims
ANDREA VANCE AND VERNON SMALL
The head of Immigration has rejected suggestions Kim Dotcom's residency was approved as part of a United States move to make it easier to extradite him to face charges there.
Documents published today show that the Security and Intelligence Service (SIS) withdrew its objections to Dotcom's residency as the Government negotiated a deal with Hollywood studio Warner Bros to ensure The Hobbit trilogy was filmed here.
Dotcom believes US authorities wanted to keep him here to make it easier to extradite him on internet piracy and copyright infringement charges. He has long claimed the Government was acting at the behest of the American film industry but has never offered proof.
But in an exclusive interview, Immigration chief executive Nigel Bickle said that from Immigration’s point of view he had seen no evidence of that and it was Dotcom’s advisers who had called for a fast decision in his case.
‘‘Mr Dotcom was represented by a very good immigration adviser, who was rightly asking questions ... ‘why is it taking so long making a decision? Mr Dotcom’s like a lot of these individuals – many countries are courting them. Could you hurry up and make a decision’.’’
Bickle said if that was what Dotcom’s advisers were saying ‘‘that seems to be the complete opposite to a conspiracy theory that says the NZ Government was somehow orchestrating bringing him into New Zealand so he could be extradited to the US’’.
Bickle said then-immigration minister Jonathan Coleman had not been involved in the decision to grant Dotcom permanent residency, and the call was made by an official.
In 2010 the investor category Dotcom was applying under, requiring at least a $10m investment here, was a new policy. Ministers were interested in how it was going and were briefed weekly.
But in terms of Dotcom as an individual, Coleman had no involvement in the decision.
Bickle had told Coleman, under the ‘‘no surprises’’ policy, on October 28, 2010 after he had been informed Dotcom would be granted residency.
But it was not a decision that needed to go to the minister.
Previously released documents show Coleman was well-briefed on the case and Dotcom's history.
Despite an implication in the documents released today, INZ’s intelligence officer Theo Kuper had not met Coleman on that day. A spokesman for Coleman confirmed that.
‘‘All I can tell you is that the only person that met with the minister of immigration on October 28 was me as the head of INZ,’’ Bickle said.
But Kuper told the SIS: "What I do know is that the minister of immigration is an interested party as the Investor Plus Residence category is a government priority because of the economic benefits to NZ."
Bickle said Dotcom’s convictions were nine and 11 years in the past and had been ‘‘clean-slated’’ and INZ only knew about them because Dotcom had disclosed them to it.
INZ had known he was a ‘‘person of interest’’ to the FBI and ‘‘we had established it was he who owned MegaUpload and the FBI had an interest because of potential copyright and privacy sort of issues.’’
But the SIS had said he was not a security concern and INZ did not talk to the Police, as recommended by the SIS, because the judgement was made the Police would only tell the service what it already knew.
The INZ officer who made the decision could only defer a decision for six months if Dotcom was either wanted for questioning, facing charges or under active investigation.
It appeared none of those things were present therefore INZ had to make a decision.
‘‘That took the officer back to balancing the character issues, convictions and what an ‘interest’ of the FBI means, with a range of other considerations in terms of his application for residency under the investor policy ... and what his advisers had said about his investments in New Zealand.’’
The cash he was investing had been certified by the Hong Kong tax authorities as money lawfully earned.
He was making an economic contribution, so on balance was granted residence.
The documents published today show that in October 2010 it had objected to Dotcom receiving residency on the grounds he was of interest to the FBI, but it removed its objection saying he was not a security risk, but noted a planned joint FBI-police operation.
The emails refer to "political pressure" on INZ but Bickle said he could not interpret what was in the minds of the SIS.
The National Government flew 10 top Hollywood executives to Wellington and thrashed out a deal at Premier House, the official residence of Prime Minister John Key.
Sources today pointed Fairfax Media to the timing of the Hobbit negotiations and the spy agency U-turn.
Key has repeatedly said he first learned of the German millionaire in a briefing on the day before police raided the Dotcom mansion.
Should MPs be able to swear to uphold the principles of the Treaty?Related story: Oath wording strikes MP discord