Megaupload couple pleads guilty in NZ to avoid extradition from US

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — As part of a deal they made to avoid extradition to the United States, two men pleaded guilty in New Zealand on Wednesday to their involvement in running the once-popular piracy website Megaupload.

The pleas of Mathias Ortmann and Bram van der Kolk to the Auckland High Court ended their 10-year legal battle to avoid extradition to the US on extortion charges.

Those charges are being dropped under a deal with prosecutors from both countries after the couple pleaded guilty in New Zealand to being part of a criminal group and causing artists to lose money through cheating. They have been released on bail pending sentencing and face up to 10 years in prison.

The US is still trying to extradite Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom, who also lives in New Zealand and has said it now expects his former colleagues to testify against him.

Prosecutors say Megaupload took in at least $175 million — mostly from people who used the site to illegally download songs, television shows and movies — before the FBI shut it down in early 2012 and arrested Dotcom and other company officials.

Ortmann told news website Stuff that after living on bail in New Zealand for ten years, the couple had firm roots in the country and contributed to society through Mega, a legitimate cloud storage website they set up after their arrest.

“There is absolutely no point in dwelling on this procedure any longer and we are putting it behind us and taking our responsibility,” Ortmann said.

Van der Kolk said they had learned from their mistakes.

“We’ve worked incredibly hard on Mega and we have a strong sense that our rehabilitation process started a long time ago,” he told Stuff.

Attorneys 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 material, not the founders. But prosecutors claimed the men were the architects of a massive criminal enterprise.

Dotcom and the two other men were once close friends, but got into an argument after their arrest and subsequent work on the Mega website.

US prosecutors had previously withdrawn their extradition request against a fourth company officer, Finn Batato, who had been arrested in New Zealand. Batato returned to Germany, where he died of cancer earlier this month.

In 2015, Estonian Megaupload computer programmer Andrus Nomm pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit copyright infringement and was sentenced to a year and a day in US federal prison.

Last year, the New Zealand Supreme Court ruled that the three could be extradited. But the country’s justice minister has yet to make a final decision on whether the extradition — now only from Dotcom — will go ahead.

Even that decision could be appealed and spend even more time in the slow-moving New Zealand justice system.

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