New Zealand court rules Dotcom raid illegal

A New Zealand court has ruled that a raid on Megaupload.com founder Kim Dotcom was unlawful, in a blow to the FBI's pursuit of the mercurial businessman.

Kim Dotcom, born Kim Schmitz, founded the file-sharing site Megaupload.com in 2005 and netted $175 million (£112 million) from the project before its closure in January. Prosecutors say the site distributed music, movies and other copyrighted material without authorisation, in a saga that represents the biggest copyright infringement conspiracy in US history.

Dotcom's lawyers say the company merely offered online storage, and the prosecuters' cause has been dealt a blow by today's ruling from New Zealand High Court Judge Justice Helen Winkelmann. The court deemed both the seizure of property from Dotcom's mansion near Auckland, and the FBI's attempts to copy data from the defendant's computers to take it offshore, as unlawful.

Winkelmann said in her ruling that the warrants of New Zealand police "did not adequately describe the offences to which they related," adding, "Indeed they fell well short of that. They were general warrants, and as such, are invalid."

Television New Zealand quoted a spokesman for Dotcom as saying he was "pleased", but he would not be making any further comment on the court decision as appeals were likely. US government lawyers said the ruling came as "no surprise".

Armed officers and helicopters raided Dotcom's sprawling country estate and seized millions of dollars in assets, which apparently included over 20 luxury vehicles.