WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — As part of a deal to avoid extradition to the United States, two men pleaded guilty on Wednesday to New Zealand for their involvement in running the once wildly popular pirate website Megaupload.
Matthias Ortmann and Bram van der Kolk’s arguments in the Auckland High Court ended their 10-year legal battle to avoid extradition to the US, which involved racketeering.
Those charges would be dropped under a deal with prosecutors in both countries after the pair pleaded guilty to being part of a criminal group in New Zealand and fraudulently losing money to the artists. He has been released on bail pending a sentence and is facing a maximum jail term of ten years.
The US is still seeking the extradition of Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom, who also lives in New Zealand, and has said it now expects his former aides to testify against him.
Prosecutors say Megaupload raked in at least $175 million — mainly from people who used the site to illegally download songs, television shows and movies — after the FBI in early 2012 found it. Shut down and arrested Dotcom and other company executives.
Ortman told news website Stuff that after being out on bail in New Zealand for a decade, the pair had strong roots in the country and were contributing to society through Mega, a legitimate cloud-storage website that they launched after their arrest. was installed later.
“There is no point in dwelling on these proceedings any longer and we are putting this behind us, and accepting our responsibility,” Ortman said.
Van der Kolk said he learned from his mistakes.
“We have worked incredibly hard on Mega and we feel strongly that our rehabilitation process has started long ago,” he told The Stuff.
Lawyers for Dotcom and the other men had long argued that if anyone was to blame in the case, it was the site’s users who chose to pirate the content, not the founders. But prosecutors argued that the men were the architects of a vast criminal enterprise.
Dotcom and the two other men were once close friends, but after their arrest and later working on the mega website, they broke up.
US prosecutors had earlier withdrew their extradition bid against the company’s fourth official, Finn Batato, who was arrested in New Zealand. Butato returned to Germany where he died of cancer earlier this month.
In 2015, Estonia’s Megaupload computer programmer Andrus Nomm pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit felony and was sentenced to a year and a day in US federal prison.
Last year, the Supreme Court of New Zealand ruled that all three could be extradited. But the country’s justice minister has yet to make a final decision on whether extradition – now just to Dotcom – will go ahead.
Even that decision could be appealed and still more time spent in the slow-moving New Zealand legal system.