WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – Two men accused by US prosecutors of racketeering and other crimes for their involvement in the once-popular file-sharing website Megaupload said on Tuesday they had reached an agreement that will prevent them from being extradited. to the US in exchange to face charges in New Zealand.
The deal by former Megaupload officials Mathias Ortmann and Bram van der Kolk means that only Megaupload’s flamboyant founder Kim Dotcom, who also lives in New Zealand, still faces the possibility of extradition to the US in the long-running case.
US officials shut down Megaupload in 2012, saying it raised at least $175 million, mostly from people who used it to illegally download music, television shows and movies. The Justice Department describes it as the biggest criminal copyright case in US history.
Facing the possibility of spending decades in US prisons if convicted, Dotcom and the other two men have fought extradition through New Zealand’s legal system for the past 10 years.
Last year, the New Zealand Supreme Court ruled that the trio could be extradited. But it was up to Justice Minister Kris Faafoi to make a final decision on extradition. And even that decision can be appealed.
In a statement released through their attorney Peter Spring, Ortmann and van der Kolk said the continuing uncertainty of the case had taken a heavy toll on their lives and the time had come to move on.
“Thus, we have reached an agreement with the government of New Zealand and the United States of America under which we agree to be prosecuted in New Zealand for crimes similar to those we face in the United States.”
The duo added that New Zealand was now their home “and we want to stay here”.
Dotcom’s lawyers and others have long argued that if anyone was blamed in the case, it was the site’s users who chose to pirate the material, not the founders. But prosecutors say the men were the architects of a vast criminal enterprise.
Dotcom and the other two men were once close friends, but had a falling out after creating a new company, Mega, following the closure of Megaupload.
In a series of tweets on Tuesday, Dotcom said his former friends would become witnesses against him as part of their settlement, but he didn’t blame them.
“I want to congratulate my former friends and partners for finding a solution to the case,” wrote Dotcom. “They can avoid the terrible US justice system. I’m happy for them. After 10 years of lawfare in the US, I understand why they dropped out. I don’t blame them and sincerely wish them all the best.”
Dotcom vowed to continue fighting the case.
“I will not accept the injustice we have been subjected to,” he wrote. “If I have to go to jail for what Megaupload users did on our site, a lot of Big Tech CEOs will be in the same boat with me.”
US prosecutors had already dropped their extradition offer against a fourth company official who was arrested in New Zealand, Finn Batato.
In 2015, Estonian Megaupload computer programmer Andrus Nomm pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit copyright infringement and was sentenced to one year and one day in US federal prison.