BERLIN ? The Auckland police arrived at Dotcom Mansion on Friday morning in two helicopters, looking to arrest the leader of an organization that the U.S. authorities charge was engaged in copyright infringement and money laundering ?on a massive scale.?
Kim Dotcom, born Kim Schmitz, a 37-year-old with Finnish and German citizenship, ran inside and activated several electronic locks. When the police ?neutralized? those, he barricaded himself in a safe room. Officers cut their way through to nab him, standing near a firearm that they said looked like a sawed-off shotgun.
?It was definitely not as simple as knocking at the front door,? said Grant Wormald, a detective inspector.
In what the U.S. authorities have called one of the largest criminal copyright cases ever brought, the Justice Department and the F.B.I. shut down the Web site Megaupload.com and instigated the arrest of Mr. Dotcom, the site?s founder, and three other people in New Zealand. In all, seven people connected with the site were charged with running an international enterprise based on Internet piracy.
While the raid Friday may have been Mr. Dotcom?s most dramatic encounter with the law, it was not his first.
In February 2001, Mr. Dotcom told Die Welt that he spent three months in a Munich jail in 1994 and served two years? probation for breaking into Pentagon computers and observing real-time satellite photos of Saddam Hussein?s palaces during the first Gulf war. In the mid-1990s, Mr. Dotcom received a suspended two-year sentence for a scam that made use of stolen phone card numbers.
In 2001, at the height of the dot-com hysteria, Mr. Dotcom was accused in what was then the largest insider-trading case in German history. Prosecutors in Munich said he bought shares in a struggling online business, letsbuyit.com
, then announced he planned to make a major investment in the company and rescue it from insolvency.
Mr. Dotcom allegedly made more than $1 million when the shares soared.
Around that time, Mr. Dotcom, then still going by the name Kim Schmitz, disputed the accusations mounting against him during an appearance on The Harald Schmidt Show, a popular late night talk show in Germany.
?It is true that I offer a lot of open flank to attack because of my lifestyle and the public way I live with my success,? a congenial Mr. Dotcom, with a crewcut and black clothing, said. ?It?s clear that that?s why people are looking for things to hang on me.?
Mr. Dotcom eventually fled Germany to escape those charges but was captured in Thailand, extradited and convicted in 2002. He spent five months in jail awaiting trial but received a suspended sentence on the underlying charges.
Mr. Dotcom dropped from view until last year, when German newspapers started reporting rumors of his luxury compound in New Zealand and possible involvement in Megaupload.
In the German television interview, which is posted on YouTube, Mr. Dotcom attributed the rumors swirling around him to a German tendency to envy those who have more.
?If I were in the United States, I would be just one of many with my lifestyle and would not draw any attention to myself,? Mr. Dotcom said.
Megaupload, one of the most popular so-called locker services on the Internet, allowed users to transfer large files like movies and music anonymously. Media companies have long accused it of abetting copyright infringement on a huge scale. In a grand jury indictment, Megaupload is accused of causing $500 million in damages to copyright owners and of making $175 million by selling ads and premium subscriptions.
The police in New Zealand said they were continuing to search the Dotcom Mansion property. In all, about 20 search warrants were executed in the United States and in eight other countries, including New Zealand.
About $50 million in assets were also seized, as well as a number of servers and 18 domain names that formed Megaupload?s network of file-sharing sites. The police said they seized 6 million
New Zealand dollars, or $4.8 million, in luxury vehicles, including a Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe and a pink 1959 Cadillac. They also seized art and electronic equipment and froze 11 million dollars in cash in various accounts.