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Wired FINALIST—FEATURE WRITING INCORPORATING PROFILE WRITING

If Kim Dotcom hadn’t invented himself, it would have taken somebody like Terry Southern to do it for him. Charles Graeber went to New Zealand to meet the six-foot-seven, 350-pound Dotcom in his Dotcom Mansion soon after he was arrested by Kiwi authorities. The result was, in the words of its editors, “a fast-paced crime story, an adventure yarn, a legal thriller, and a tearful portrait of a troubled child prodigy who becomes an international robber baron.” Plus, there’s the Filipino ex-model wife, the three-year-old son, and a posse straight out of The Big Bang Theory (or The Hangover, take your pick). In any case, the National Magazine Award judges were impressed, describing this as a “masterly, sometimes hilarious profile that brings its larger-than-the-web subject brilliantly to life.”


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Charles Graeber

Mega Ten Days Inside the Mansion—and the Mind—of Kim Dotcom, the Most Wanted Man on the Internet

Please Choose One of the Following Statements: • A. Kim Dotcom is not a pirate. He’s a hero. The savior of my online liberties. A visionary digital entrepreneur. His company Megaupload was a legitimate data-storage business used by hundreds of millions of individuals and by employees of NASA, U.S. Central Command, even the FBI. The raid on his New Zealand home was excessive and illegal—shock-and-awe bullshit. Hollywood is terrified by the digital future, and an innocent paid the price. Kim is a martyr. But Kim will triumph. You’d like him, he’s cool. • B. Kim Dotcom is a pirate. A megalomaniacal gangsta clown. An opportunistic and calculating career criminal. His Megaupload enterprise willfully made hundreds of millions of dollars off stolen movies, songs, videogames, books, and software. And, oh yeah, he couldn’t be more obnoxious about it.


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He wanted Wired to write a nice story about him, so he manipulated its writer by providing exclusive access, and even a few tears, in hopes of a puff piece. But Kim is a criminal. He knows he’s a criminal. Like any pirate, the only freedoms he really cares about are the ones he can exploit to make himself rich. The rest is all PR. If you think he’s cool, you don’t know him. • C. Kim Dotcom is rich enough to work however and wherever he wants. And what he wants is to work from bed. His bed of choice is a remarkable piece of custom Swedish craft smanship made by a company called Hästens. Each one takes some 160 hours to produce and is signed by a master bed maker who lays out the most perfect matrix of horsehair, cotton, flax, and wool. Price after custom framing: $103,000. Kim has three such beds in his New Zealand mansion, one of which faces a series of monitors and hard drives and piles of wires and is flanked on either side by lamps that look like, and may well be, chromed AK-47s. This is Kim’s “work bed” and serves as his office. It was here that he returned in the early morning of January 20, 2012, after a long night spent on his music album, one of his many side projects. Kim had spent the previous seven hours down the road at Roundhead Studios, laying down beats with songwriter Mario “Tex” James and Black Eyed Peas producer Printz Board in a studio owned by Crowded House frontman Neil Finn. They finished around four-thirty a.m., and Kim slid into the backseat of his Mercedes S-Class for the ride back to his mansion. Soon after leaving the parking lot, Kim noticed headlights behind them. He said to his driver, “I think we’re being followed.” They pulled into Kim’s rented palace around dawn. His wife and children were long asleep in another wing. Kim walked to his upstairs chambers, showered and changed into his custom-


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ary all-black sleeping costume, grabbed his customary chilled Fiji water from the upstairs fridge, and settled before the monitors of his work bed. Then he heard the noise. A low, wavering bass, it seemed to be coming from outside. Kim couldn’t tell—the cavernous stone labyrinth of rooms swallowed and scattered sound, and the thick velvet blackout curtains blocked out everything else. Kim guessed it was his helicopter. He didn’t bother with details, he had a staff for that, but he did know that VIPs from the entertainment world were expected in from LA in celebration of his thirty-eighth birthday. Maybe they’d arrived early and Roy, his pilot, had been dispatched to meet them. A moment later the helicopter theory was confi rmed by the sound of rocks from the limestone drive raining against the windows. Fucking Roy! He’d been told not to land too near—the thought was interrupted by a boom, echoing and close. This noise was coming from the other side of his office door. It was heavy hardwood several inches thick, secured by stout metal bolts in the stone casement. Kim struggled to his feet as the door shook and heaved on its hinges. Someone or something was trying to break through. Now Kim heard other noises, shouts and bangs and the unmistakable stomping of boots on stairs. Intruders were in the house. Kim Dotcom realized he was under attack. •

Across an ocean, hours before Operation Takedown began, the U.S. Department of Justice had already tipped off a select group of journalists about the raid’s planned highlights. If you know nothing else about Kim Dotcom, about the federal case against him and his former online business, Megaupload, you’ve probably heard about the raid. The story played out like a Hollywood blockbuster. And it was a great story.


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360 Charles Graeber

The scene: New Zealand. Lush and Green and Freaking Far Away. It’s the Canada of Australia, Wales in a Hawaiian shirt, a Xanadu habitat for hobbit and emu. And harbor home to the villain: Kim Dotcom, né Kim Schmitz, aka Tim Vestor, Kim Tim Jim Vestor, Kimble, and Dr. Evil. A classic comic-book baddie millionaire, an ex-con expatriate German ex-hacker lording over his own personal Pirate Bay just thirty minutes north of Auckland. Kim Dotcom was presented as a big, bad man, larger-than-life, larger than his 6' 7", perhaps 350-pound frame. We saw him posed with guns and yachts and fancy cars. We watched him drive his nitrox-fueled Mega Mercedes in road rallies and on golf courses, throwing fake gang signs at rap moguls and porn stars, making it rain with $175 million in illicit dotcom booty. His alleged fi ft y-petabyte pirate ship was Megaupload.com, a massive vessel carrying, at its peak, 50 million passengers a day, a full 4 percent of global Internet traffic. Megaupload was a free online storage locker, a cloud warehouse for fi les too bulky for e-mail. It generated an estimated $25 million a year in revenue from ads and brought in another $150 million through its paid, faster, unlimited Premium service. The DOJ maintains that the legitimate storage business was only a front, like a Mafia pork store; the real money was made out back, where Megaupload was a mega-swapmeet for some $500 million worth of pirated material, including movies, TV shows, music, books, videogames, and soft ware. Kim, they contend, was the Jabba the Hutt–like presence running this grand bazaar of copyright criminality with impunity from his Kiwi Tatooine, protected by laser break beams and guards and guns, CCTV and infrared and even escape pods—including a helicopter and high-performance sports cars. The FBI also believed Kim possessed a special portable device that would wipe his servers all across the globe, destroying the evidence. They called this his doomsday button.


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Operation Takedown was carried out by armed New Zealand special police and monitored by the FBI via video link. Descriptions of the raid varied from one news outlet to another, but most included the cops’ dramatic helicopter arrival on the expansive Dotcom Mansion lawn and their struggles with a security system fit for a Mafia don. We read that police were forced to cut their way into Dotcom’s panic room, where they found him cowering near a sawed-off shotgun. That same day, similar raids were under way in eight other countries where Megaupload had servers or offices. Th is was justice on an epically entertaining scale, topped by a fi nal cherry of schadenfreude: the rich fat bad man humbled and humiliated, the boastful pirate king brought down. He was cuffed and put in jail, his booty seized, his business scuttled upon the reefs of anti-racketeering laws. If all went as planned, he and his six generals would be extradited to the United States to face a Virginia judge and up to fift y-five years each in prison. The message was, if it could happen to him, it could happen to anyone. Look upon these works, ye BitTorrenters of Dark Knight trilogies, sneak thieves of 50 Cent, and despair in your pirate bays. Justice was served, the end, roll credits. Yes, it was a great story. The only problem was, it wasn’t quite true. •

Kim Dotcom’s head of security is waiting for me at the Auckland airport on a gray day last July. Wayne Tempero is easy to spot. Amid the limo drivers and families with Mylar balloons is one deadly serious shave-headed New Zealander with a lantern jaw—a tattooed wall of muscle wearing a tight black hoodie. Before working “close protection” for the most famous man in New Zealand, Tempero had protected other big faces and names, from David Beckham to the royal family of Brunei. He specializes


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in military hand-to-hand combat and looks like a very nice person who’d be very handy with a knife. The car is waiting just outside. Not the Lamborghini or pink Series 62 Cadillac or any of the three retrofitted Mercedes CLK DTMs with extra-wide seats—the cops had impounded those. This is just a modest black Mercedes G55 AMG Kompressor with the license plate kimcom . “I think I was followed on my way here,” Tempero says. In fact, everyone in Kim’s entourage assumes everything is monitored, including all their communications. Tempero is the one facing gun charges after the raid—the shotguns were registered in his name—and he doesn’t need any more problems with the police. “Maybe we’re all a little paranoid these days,” he says with a grin as he edges up to the speed limit for the drive. The Dotcom Mansion is impossible to miss, mostly because of the chromed industrial-park letters spelling out dotcom mansion across the gatehouse in blue backlighting. It’s said to be the island nation’s most expensive home, located in the lush hills of the town of Coatesville. The limestone drive winds up to a $24 million suburban castle with ponds, a tennis court, several pools, a Vegas-style stairstep fountain, and a hedgerow labyrinth. The surrounding sixty acres of lawn are manicured and impossibly steep. Until just two months ago, Kim couldn’t live in his own home, as a condition of his house arrest following a month of jail time. For three months he was confined to the guesthouse, a prison of black lacquer and black leather, black Versace tables and wallsized LCD flatscreens. The walls are adorned with poster-sized photographs of Kim and his beautiful twenty-four-year-old wife, Mona, but mostly just Kim: Kim in front of a helicopter, Kim on the bow of a luxury yacht, Kim reeling in a great fish or in front of a European castle holding a shotgun and a limp duck, or straddling a mountaintop, eyes pinned on the distant future. The effect is more Kim Jong-Il than Kim Dotcom. Dotcom—or


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the iconic character of Dotcom—is everywhere here, but most of the fift y-three members of the household staff that once maintained the larger estate are gone with his seized fortune. Outside the windows there are no humans to be seen or things to do. The grounds are gray and cold, winter in the southern hemisphere. The perimeter fences warn of electrocution. Closedcircuit cameras take in every angle from stations in the trees and rooftops, sending fl ickering images to the panels monitored by the skeleton staff still manning the distant guardhouses. My suspicion of surveillance by the FBI or New Zealand antiterror forces—or perhaps even by the millionaire former hacker himself—prevents me from logging onto Kim’s wireless network or even making a phone call. I feel like I’ve been kidnapped and held as a “guest” by a Bond villain. A Bond villain who is asleep. In fact, Tempero tells me, the boss had just gone to bed shortly before I arrived at dawn. There’s no telling when he’ll be awake. Kim has surrounded himself with luxury, but what he prizes above all other indulgences is pure, deep sleep. He simply doesn’t always like to get up in the morning, and he doesn’t always like going to bed at night, and—here’s the kicker—he doesn’t have to. The sun is up or down—who cares? The clock is numbers in a circle, duodecimal nonsense. It is a guilt machine, a metronome for the normal lives of normal people. But it is always dark somewhere. And it is always night in the Dotcom Mansion. Great black curtains shut out the light, thick stone walls block the sound. The $103,000 horsehair Hästens bed is waiting. In his sleeping chamber there are no electronic things, no humming or beeping devices, no leaking of LED, no sigh of capacitor or fan. For sleep of the finest quality, for epicurean, luxury slumber, total silence is required and enforced. The gardeners do not mow, the cleaners do not clean. The cooks chop quietly in other wings, the nannies tend the children in another house. When he sleeps the mansion holds its breath. Kim can’t provide a schedule. He doesn’t have to. It’s his house.


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When Kim sleeps, he is flying. He’s not sweating, he doesn’t have health problems, bad knees, or a bad back. He’s not on trial or fighting for recognition. He’s not a kid afraid of his father coming home or more afraid that he won’t. He’s not being extradited to a place where jailers mark day from night with a light switch. When Kim sleeps, he is free. “I usually just watch his Twitter,” Tempero says. “That’s really the only way to know when the boss is up.” It’s late afternoon before Kim’s tweets start pouring forth. He tweets a lot, announcing updates on the coming court hearings, plugging his new pop single—a catchy duet with his wife called “Precious”—and a music video featuring home footage of the five Dotcom kids, including hospital shots of the arrival of his new twins only five months before. Other messages in the stream address Julian Assange or Internet freedoms or the tyranny of the FBI. A few minutes later, Tempero is at my door. The boss is up. •

I find Kim behind the wheel of his golf cart, layered in his usual uniform of black vest over diaphanous black shirt and threequarter-length pants, a black scarf and heavy black leather ball cap. He is a large man and fills most of the front seat. Despite his blue-tinted Cartier sunglasses, his eyes squint against the sunlight. Spotting me, he motors over and extends a fist bump. “Wow, you look like a Viking,” he says, meaning probably that I’m blond and tall like him. His English is precise and tinged with a German-Finnish accent. “Cool!” Then he zips away on a golf cart that has been hacked to top 30 mph. I follow along the limestone trail to what Kim calls his hill, where he can soak in a few minutes of precious winter sun. At this time of year Kim and family would usually be based out of their floor-wide residence in the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong, or on a rented yacht off the shores of Monaco or St. Tropez. The


Excerpt from The Best American Magazine Writing 2013