The raid on Kim Dotcom’s sprawling mansion in Coatesville, New Zealand had all the trappings of a Hollywood film. Two helicopters brought in a dozen tactical officers, armed with automatic weapons, to storm the mansion while the Internet mogul was throwing a party for his 38th birthday. With guns drawn, the officers rounded up the party attendees. But when they went after the head honcho himself, Dotcom allegedly barricaded himself in a safe room. Ian Fleming would have had trouble writing a better arrest scene for a James Bond thriller.
Newly-released video shows the scope of the Jan. 20 raid, a high-powered operation that was meant to take down the man accused of up to $500 million worth of major copyright violations around the world, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
At 6:47 a.m., the first helicopter descended into the gravel driveway in front of the $24 million mansion, located just 15 miles outside of New Zealand’s largest city Auckland. A camera on board the chopper was rolling throughout the landing and picked up audio from the raid even as authorities were inside.
The forces that swooped in were part of New Zealand’s elite Special Tactics Group, a SWAT-like team of troops who typically handle high-risk situations. They “were the best people for the job,” said Detective Inspector Grant Wormald at a court hearing Thursday.
But New Zealand authorities have come under fire for using too much force. The 6′ 7″, 300-lb Finnish entrepreneur was admittedly a “low threat,” according to an officer who testified before the court. He did explain that the support teams didn’t don any tactical gear that day because “it wasn’t appropriate under these circumstances.” But they still landed dozens of officers and police dogs in two helicopters and four trucks, and armed themselves with high-powered weapons. “Police aren’t every day going into houses armed to the teeth,” Dotcom’s lawyer Paul Davison told the hearing at Auckland High Court. “That’s not the ordinary police practice around the country.”
The video shows the helicopter landing on the mansion’s sprawling grounds, with lush lawns filled with ornate shrubbery and statues of giraffes. Ground forces arrived just minutes after. The helicopters were the Special Tactics Group’s best defense against the guards that stood at the entrance to Dotcom’s driveway. When Dotcom, in his bedroom with the shutters closed, got wind of the invasion, he pressed an alarm button at the side of his bed to alert his security staff, he told the court, after which he escaped to the “red room” a panic room he installed just off his bedroom, created for this express purpose.
Dotcom testified that he let the tactical unit come find him, rather than “popping out of that secret door and maybe scaring someone who might shoot me.” He sat for 13 minutes, he said, until police found him in the panic room, sitting with the door unlocked and his hands up. But within two seconds, he testified, they had tackled him: “I had a punch to the face, I had boots kicking me down to the floor, I had a knee to the ribs and then my hands were on the floor.” New Zealand police gave a markedly different account, announcing in January that they had to “cut their way” into the safe room, where Dotcom was holding “what looked like a sawed-off shotgun,” they said in a statement.
The helicopter cam, still hovering above the 25,000-square-foot home, reveals the arrest process through arresting officers’ radio transmissions. “Mr. Dotcom has been shown the warrant to seize the property.”
In June, the search warrants used to raid Dotcom’s property were declared invalid. Justice Helen Winkelmann argued that the warrants obtained and shown to Dotcom upon his arrest were “general warrants” that didn’t adequately state the types of materials police could seize. “The warrants could not authorize seizure of irrelevant material, and are therefore invalid,” Winkelmann wrote in her judgment. Dotcom has been fighting to get back the 135 computers and hard drives that police grabbed that day when they took him into custody.
The three-day hearing was called in response to the illegal seizure, which could have serious effects on Dotcom’s long-awaited October extradition hearing, where authorities could send him to the United States to stand trial. He faces five counts of copyright infringement, racketeering and money laundering, as do his alleged conspirators Mathias Ortmann, Finn Batato and Bram van der Kolk. They have all maintained their innocence.
In the meantime, Dotcom has remained on a modified form of house arrest, allowed out only to “go swimming once a week and travel twice a week to an Auckland studio to record music.” He’s passed the days mocking authorities from the safety of his newly-launched Twitter feed, and he recently unveiled his first full-length recording titled “Mr. President,” a seeming plea to U.S. president Barack Obama (under whose jurisdiction he was charged) to loosen copyright laws.