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To avoid US extradition, Megaupload pair plead guilty in NZ

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND (AP) – As part of a deal they struck to avoid extradition to the United States (US), two men pleaded guilty yesterday in New Zealand to their involvement in running the once wildly popular pirating website Megaupload.

The pleas by Mathias Ortmann and Bram van der Kolk at the Auckland High Court ended their 10-year legal battle to avoid extradition to the US on charges that included racketeering.

Those charges will be dropped under a deal with prosecutors from both countries after the pair pleaded guilty in New Zealand to being part of a criminal group and causing artists to lose money by deception. They have been released on bail pending sentencing and face a maximum 10 years in prison.

The US is still seeking to extradite Megaupload’s founder Kim Dotcom, who also lives in New Zealand and has said he now expects his former colleagues to testify against him.

Prosecutors said Megaupload raked in at least USD175 million – mainly from people who used the site to illegally download songs, television shows and movies – before the FBI shut it down in early 2012 and arrested Dotcom and other company officers.

Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom stands with Bram van der Kolk, Mathias Ortmann and Finn Batato, outside the High Court in Auckland, New Zealand on August 9, 2012. PHOTO: AP

Ortmann told news website Stuff that after a decade of living in New Zealand on bail, the pair had firm roots in the country and were contributing to society through Mega, a legitimate cloud-storage website they set up after their arrest.

“There’s absolutely no point in dwelling on these proceedings any longer and we are putting it behind us, and accepting our responsibility,” Ortmann said.

Van der Kolk said they had learnt from their mistakes.

“We’ve worked incredibly hard on Mega and we strongly feel that our rehabilitation process has started a long time ago,” he told Stuff.

Lawyers for Dotcom and the other men had long argued that if anybody was guilty in the case, it was the users of the site who chose to pirate material, not the founders. But prosecutors argued the men were the architects of a vast criminal enterprise.

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