OPINION: The tortuous progress of the alleged internet pirate Kim Dotcom's extradition hearing through the court system is making the Government and its officials look silly.
It is also unfortunately helping to turn Dotcom - who is wanted by US authorities and has past convictions overseas for computer hacking and insider trading - into something of a Kiwi folk hero. It is far too easy in this case to imagine police officers and the nameless spies involved collectively as akin to Inspector Clouseau. Kim Dotcom is making satire redundant.
First of all, Immigration New Zealand did itself no favours after Dotcom was granted New Zealand residency in late 2010, despite his foreign convictions. He invested $10 million in government bonds and Immigration officials used a "special direction" to waive the requirement that he be of good character. Although Immigration's decisions were made lawfully, they created an impression that residency could be bought, and Immigration officials then sought to limit publicity about Dotcom's residency and keep it as "confidential as possible".
Then ACT party leader John Banks escaped police charges after electoral law was broken over a $50,000 donation from Dotcom that Banks declared was anonymous. Prime Minister John Key, needing Banks' support, has refused to read the police report into the Dotcom- Banks dealings, potentially diminishing his own mana in this regard.
More recently, police wrongly advised the Government Communications Security Bureau that Dotcom and his co-accused Bram van der Kolk could be treated as foreign nationals, and were therefore within the GCSB's legal scope for surveillance. The spy agency, which is forbidden from spying on New Zealand residents, apparently failed to check this fundamental point, even though the signs that Dotcom was out of bounds couldn't have been made clearer - he had earlier celebrated his New Zealand residency status with a large fireworks display over Auckland.
Dotcom now claims that the New Zealand intelligence was funnelled back to US authorities, and the fact that it was illegally collected might make some evidence against him inadmissible in a US court.
The whole sorry affair calls into question particularly the competency of police staff and GCSB officials involved. This is particularly unfortunate in regard to the security bureau - New Zealanders accept that it operates on their behalf out of the glare of public scrutiny, but expect in return that it conducts itself to the highest standards and always within the law. Apparently, this didn't happen here.
The court system is still the best place to let this sorry saga play itself out. But the authorities need to bear in mind that New Zealanders' trust in their capabilities has been impaired. The prime minister should consider also that his refusal to deal adequately with John Banks, and Dotcom's apparent ability to turn each of the various twists in his case into a public relations victory, are damaging to the Government's image. And the weight that US authorities might or might not have applied to New Zealand in their attempts to get Dotcom into their jurisdiction is another question entirely.
- © Fairfax NZ News