In America, Kim Dotcom is a racketeering suspect. In New Zealand on Wednesday, he was the prime minister's debate partner.
The flamboyant Internet entrepreneur, who has gained celebrity status here while fighting extradition, took a helicopter from his estate to the capital, tweeting photos along the way, to speak against a bill that would expand the powers of New Zealand's foreign spy agency.
In a Parliament committee room, he used his allotted 15 minutes to rail against US and New Zealand snooping, then traded jabs with Prime Minister John Key.
Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom speaks to the media after coming face to face for the first time with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key. Photo: AFP
Mr Dotcom is founder of the once-popular file-sharing site Megaupload, which was shut down last year by US authorities who accuse him of facilitating online piracy. His testimony at the committee hearing was a highly anticipated piece of political theater, and his every word was followed on live video streams and Twitter.
Mr Dotcom spoke against a bill that would allow the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) to spy on New Zealanders under certain circumstances, something not expressly permitted under current law. One such instance would be on behalf of another domestic agency.
Mr Dotcom had a stake in the debate because the GCSB concluded in a review of its actions that it unlawfully spied on him before his arrest in the South Pacific nation last year. Mr Key publicly apologised to Mr Dotcom after that ruling, but Mr Dotcom later questioned his sincerity given the government's interest in expanding the agency's powers.
When he confirmed earlier this week that Key was chairing Wednesday's hearing, Mr Dotcom tweeted, "It's ON."
At the end of Mr Dotcom's prepared remarks, Mr Key challenged him. The Prime Minister had Mr Dotcom agree that people once used Megaupload to outsource their file storage. Wasn't it the same thing, he asked, for the spy agency to accept work that other agencies outsource to it?
"On Megaupload you would share a file," Mr Dotcom replied. "On the GCSB spy cloud you share private information about citizens that you don't have any right to access. That is the big difference."
Opposition Labour leader David Shearer then asked Mr Dotcom whether Mr Key knew the GCSB had spied on the entrepreneur before he was arrested in a dramatic raid, a point that has been politically contested for months.
"Oh, he knew about me before the raid. I know about that," Mr Dotcom replied.
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