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Gordon Campbell on the US injustice that Dotcom faces

Gordon Campbell on the “Rocket Docket” US injustice that Dotcom faces, and the Bluff smelter

by Gordon Campbell

This month’s Werewolf cover story is about the Kim Dotcom extradition case and is available here, but there’s an interesting footnote…This week, ABC television news in the States ran an AP story about how and why the Eastern Virginia District gets to prosecute international cases such as Kim Dotcom. The story was fascinating on a few different levels. For starters, it lumped in Dotcom with Somali pirates, corrupt Colombian generals involved in the drug trade, and mortgage lending fraudsters. Even Dotcom’s sternest critics would struggle to credibly equate him with such offenders.

For a New Zealander, the fascinating aspect of the story – given how Dotcom is being set up here for extradition without proper access to the information he needs to refute the charges on which the extradition request is based – crops up the headline of the story. East Virginia is described in the ABC news headline story as the “Rocket Docket” …Meaning, it conducts fast trials, and gets guilty verdicts partly because its juries are known to favour the prosecution.

In cases where an international defendant could be tried anywhere in the U.S., the Eastern District of Virginia often finds itself favored in part because of its reputation as the "Rocket Docket," said Michael Scharf, a professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and an expert in international law. The courthouses in Alexandria, Richmond and Norfolk have long had a reputation for bringing cases to trial quickly and efficiently, and juries in the district have a reputation of being friendly to prosecutors.

Great. So Dotcom is being railroaded to the US to a jurisdiction with a known reputation for favouring the prosecution. (Clearly, Professor Michael Sharf should be contacted by the Dotcom defence team to testify to the bias likely should Dotcom be extradited.) More to the point, Neil MacBride, the high profile prosecutor of Dotcom and other international cases being pursued in East Virginia, is a classic example of how the US “justice” system works, in its dutiful role as the servant of Corporate America.

For example: as this 2009 C-Net story noted, McBride’s used to head the international lobbying arm of the US software industry:

As one of his first official actions as president, Obama has selected the Business Software Alliance's top antipiracy enforcer and general counsel, Neil MacBride, for a senior Justice Department post. Among other duties, MacBride has been responsible for the BSA's program that rewarded people for phoning in tips about suspected software piracy….MacBride was appointed as associate deputy attorney general, a position does not require Senate confirmation, and previously worked on copyright and other issues as chief counsel to then-Sen. Biden.

So the prosecutor in the Dotcom case was the anti-piracy enforcer for US software companies in their lobbying work with foreign governments. What a co-incidence. The BSA’s website is here. Furthermore, note MacBride’s past connections as legal counsel for Joseph Biden on copyright issues. Which is relevant given how the case against Dotcom seems to have come about. Reportedly, the actions taken against him are a consequence of vice-President Biden’s meeting with Hollywood executives. Here’s Dotcom’s version of events:

"I do know from a credible source that it was Joe Biden, the best friend of former Senator and Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) boss Chris Dodd, who ordered his former lawyer and now state attorney Neil MacBride to take Mega[upload] down. After we received information from an insider we scanned the White House visitor logs for all meetings of Chris Dodd and studio bosses with Joe Biden and Obama. They are publicly available on the White House website. It is interesting that a man by the name of Mike Ellis of MPA Asia, an extradition expert and former superintendent of the Hong Kong police, was also at a meeting with Dodd, all studio bosses and Joe Biden. The same Mike Ellis met with the Minister of Justice Simon Power in New Zealand."

And then quelle surprise, the subsequent case ends up with Biden’s old pal Neil MacBride, and his handy “Rocket Docket” form of East Virginia “justice.” As mentioned, this has to be almost a textbook example of how Corporate America uses the US political and justice systems, for its ends.

You might be wondering how come Eastern Virginia has any jurisdiction on this case. Well, as the AP story linked above points out, this is a consequence of Dotcom’s big mistake: the servers for Megaupload were located in the US, and MacBride has been able to trace a tenuous link via the fact that they were leased from a company located in Virginia. Moreover, jurisdiction can reportedly arise from where the defendants arrive in the US – so one can be pretty sure just where Dotcom and his associates will be sent first, if they are extradited. What a travesty.

Bluff Smelter in Crisis (Again)
All along, the really important decisions about the government’s asset sales programme have not been the ones made by the NZ public – in poll after poll, we’ve shown our disapproval, and have been ignored. The opinion of the Key government is also well known – they’re solidly in favour. However, the decisive players in all of this are sitting around a boardroom in London, at the offices of Rio Tinto, which owns the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter. If they close down operations, all deals are off – or should be. Last year, Adam Bennett spelled it out in the NZ Herald like this:

If [the smelter] was to close, the wholesale market would be oversupplied and prices would likely crash. The sharp reduction in power companies' revenues would have a significant effect on their market value just as the Government looks to raise billions of dollars by partially selling them….Apart from the effect on power prices, the closure of the smelter would see a thousand jobs lost directly and about a further 3000 lost indirectly. Southland's economy would be severely affected and it would be a difficult situation for local MP Bill English, who is also Finance Minister and the driving force behind the asset sales programme.

Well, as the Greens have pointed out, things are currently not looking good.

The future of Tiwai Point aluminium smelter is in doubt after Meridian Energy announced that contract talks have broken down. This follows the departure of New Zealand Aluminium Smelters general manager Ryan Cavanagh last week. Tiwai Point consumes up to 15 percent of the country’s electricity. If it closes, that electricity will flood the market.

“How can John Key ask Kiwi mums and dads to put their hard-earned savings into an electricity company at a time like this? With the very real risk that Tiwai Point will close, no-one can sensibly assess the value of investing in a power company,” said Dr Norman. “Likewise, how can the National Government sensibly assess the business case for proceeding with the sales when the future price of electricity and value of the electricity companies is so uncertain?

Exactly. Watch this space. And put any purchase plans for those shares on hold.

ENDS

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