Pair who helped run pirating website Megaupload sentenced to jail in New Zealand

The sentencing of Mathias Ortmann and Bram van der Kolk ended an 11-year legal battle by the men to avoid extradition to the US.
The sentencing of Mathias Ortmann and Bram van der Kolk ended an 11-year legal battle by the men to avoid extradition to the US.

Two men who helped run the once wildly popular pirating website Megaupload were each sentenced by a New Zealand court on Thursday to more than two years in prison.

The sentencing of Bram van der Kolk and Mathias Ortmann ended an 11-year legal battle by the men to avoid extradition to the US on more serious charges that included racketeering.

The men last year struck a deal with prosecutors from New Zealand and the US in which they pleaded guilty to being part of a criminal group and causing artists to lose money by deception.

Meanwhile, Kim Dotcom, the founder of Megaupload, is continuing to fight the US charges and threat of extradition. He has said he expects his former colleagues to testify against him as part of the deal they struck.

US prosecutors say Megaupload raked in at least 175 million dollars (£138 million) — mainly 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 officers.

Ortmann was sentenced to two years and seven months while van der Kolk was sentenced to two years and six months. Each had faced a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison but argued they should be allowed to serve their sentences in home detention.

New Zealand Judge Sally Fitzgerald made the unusual decision to allow both men to delay serving their sentences until August on humanitarian grounds because Ortmann is expecting the birth of a child and van der Kolk’s mother is ill, news website Stuff reported.

Fitzgerald said that while the victims of Megaupload included wealthy multinational film and music companies, they also included small companies such as a New Zealand software firm, Stuff reported.

Dotcom tweeted on Thursday that the sentences amounted to a slap on the wrist and showed the desperation of US prosecutors in the case. He said he’s been advised the men will be eligible for parole after 10 months.

“They will serve less than a year instead of the 185 years we were charged with,” Dotcom tweeted. “Good for them.”

After their 2012 arrest, Dotcom and the other two men set up a legitimate cloud-storage website called Mega. Dotcom soon sold his stake in the company and had a falling out with the other men.

Lawyers for Dotcom and the other men had long argued that if anybody was guilty in the case, it was the users of the Megaupload site who chose to pirate material, not the founders. But prosecutors argued the men were the architects of a vast criminal enterprise.

US prosecutors had earlier sought the extradition of a fourth officer of the company, Finn Batato, who was also arrested in New Zealand in 2012. Mr Batato returned to Germany, where he died last year from cancer.

In 2015, Megaupload computer programmer Andrus Nomm of Estonia pleaded guilty in the case to conspiring to commit felony copyright infringement and was sentenced to one year and one day in US federal prison.

New Zealand’s Supreme Court has ruled that Dotcom can be extradited to the US but New Zealand’s justice minister has yet to make a final decision on whether the extradition will go ahead.

That decision could be appealed against, taking still more time in the slow-moving New Zealand legal system.