Excessive burden? USA not contributing to NZ’s $5.8m Dotcom case costs

Kim Dotcom outside New Zealand's Parliament

Crown Law has provided figures under the Official Information Act on the money and time spent in relation to legal work completed in respect of Kim Dotcom and his associates which amounts to more than $5.8 million.

Crown Law writes that the United States Department of Justice is not reimbursing New Zealand for any of these expenses, even though the cases largely relate to charges that they wish to bring against Mr Dotcom and his associates.

Crown Law hours spent

The figures:

  • are as at 8 February 2017;
  • include work on both domestic and mutual assistance (United States initiated extradition) legal proceedings;
  • exclude work completed to provide advice to other Government Departments, for example the Police or the GCSB who respectively picked up the bill for Crown Law’s advice to them; and
  • include most Crown Law legal staff time and some support staff time.

2011: 432.10
2012: 7,356.67
2013: 4,087.50
2014: 5,742.27
2015: 4,911.80
2016: 3,207.26
2017: 4.77
Total: 25,742.37

25,000 hours.

Using a conservative estimate of the value of the time spent ($140 per hour,1 which is the rate a Crown Law junior prosecutor would be billed out as – senior solicitors’ time is likely worth more, support staffs’ likely less), this comes to around NZD $3.6 million.

Disbursements

New Zealand has also covered the bill for work completed by external counsel on Crown Law’s behalf and expenses paid by Crown Law in relation to the Dotcom/Megaupload matters – another NZD $2.2 million.

This includes: $1.98 million on external barrister/solicitor fees, $171,800 on travel and accommodation, $23,151 on Court filing fees, $20,125 on photocopying, and $17,356 on professional fees including research material.

An excessive burden?

At least NZD $5.8 million has been spent on Kim Dotcom et al. by New Zealand so far, and it begs the question: was it worth it?

Should we have refused the United States’ mutual assistance request when it was made? Section 27(g)(i) of the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act 1992 allows New Zealand to refuse a request made by a foreign country if “in the opinion of the Attorney-General, the provision of assistance would impose an excessive burden on the resources of New Zealand”.

Kim Dotcom had hundreds of millions of dollars worth of assets before the raid on his home and it’s not a shock that he has aggressively defended the cases brought against him.

If spending $5.8 million+ has not been an excessive burden on New Zealand, what amount would be?

1 This is a lower rate to that used by David Fisher in his September 2015 article of $198/hour.

Image credit: Sarah-Rose


The full response from Crown Law, including the breakdown of expenses incurred is embedded below.

Peter Thiel’s New Zealand Citizenship File

Peter Thiel

At around 5:15pm today the Department of Internal Affairs released some of the information they hold on Peter Thiel’s application for New Zealand citizenship, emailed on mass to those who had made requests under the Official Information Act.

Peter Thiel has never lived in New Zealand and doesn’t plan to live in New Zealand. He’s a controversial figure. We looked past that because of a few New Zealand business investments, public speaking engagements, and a donation to the Canterbury earthquake relief fund.

Neil Strauss wrote a book in 2009 called Emergency about disaster preparedness. In one part he investigates the trend of the super rich applying for secondary citizenship in another country. They wanted to be prepared when “the shit hits the fan” by having a Plan B country to retreat to if there was some sort of disaster. Strauss said New Zealand would be a great country to have citizenship in but that our requirements are so strict. He settled for Saint Kitts and Nevis.

When you’re Peter Thiel and are worth US$2.7 billion, I guess you don’t need to settle.

Thiel has his Plan B, New Zealand, but don’t expect to see him around unless the world is falling apart.

Highlights and the full documents are embedded below:


DIA’s PDF document released 1 February 2017

Image credit: Heisenberg Media CC-BY-2.0

MBIE’s Chief Engineer on a reduced standard of earthquake repairs in Canterbury

Earthquake damaged buildingThe Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment has released a 2013 briefing to the Minister of Housing Hon Dr Nick Smith written by their Chief Engineer.

The Minister asked about a reduced standard of repair for older properties “particularly in the context of Housing New Zealand [properties]”, however the Ministry’s response is still illuminating:

  • There is no reference to the Earthquake Commission Act 1993 and the standard of repair required by the Act.
  • Although a building may have been damaged, the Ministry provided a list of scenarios where “no repair is required”.
  • Minimising cost and avoiding obtaining engineering advice for individual properties were primary considerations of the Ministry.
  • The Minister was concerned with avoiding “excessive” money and time spent on earthquake recovery.

The full document is embedded below.

Minister Peter Dunne’s Uber expenses actually for luxury car service

The Office of the Minister of Internal Affairs, Peter Dunne, has confirmed that two trips declared as Uber rides in Minister Dunne’s international travel reconciliation form for a trip to the United States were actually for a luxury car service.

A staffer writes that the transactions to Kelley’s Luxury Car Service “were mislabelled [as Uber rides] on the expense form due to a case of mistaken identity of the company involved”.

The two trips between Newark Liberty International Airport and “accommodation in New York for Ministerial staff while on ministerial business” cost USD $92 and USD $102.

Uber estimates that an uberX fare between Newark Liberty International Airport and a Midtown hotel, The Westin New York Grand Central (where Minister Nicky Wagner stayed while in New York), would cost between USD $43 and USD $50. It is unclear which hotel Minister Dunne stayed at.

Uber fare estimate between Newark Liberty International Airport and The Westin New York Grand Central

University of Canterbury must improve crisis student communication and support

Need help? In New Zealand, you can call Lifeline on 0800 543 354, Youthline on 0800 37 66 33 or find out about other crisis services here.

Student communication

University of Canterbury James Hight libraryOn 22 July 2016 a woman was sexually assaulted while walking through the University of Canterbury owned Ilam Fields.

In response to a request from the Police, who informed UC Security of a “physical assault”, an email was sent to all students that day.

On 24 July 2016 a reporter from The Press contacted the University in response to the Police releasing a statement to the media. The Police told The Press that the assault was actually a sexual assault, and this fact was published in an article that day. In response to an Official Information Act request, most of which was initially declined, the University said that “the Police appeared not to have told the University of the sexual nature of the incident before telling the media”.

However, the University did not inform students of the sexual nature of the incident after it became public knowledge. The assault was alluded to in a 28 July UC blog post, which included 10 ’safety and security tips’ and a list of ’support for students’ links, including a link to the UC Health Centre. This content was also included in the next edition of the ‘Insider’s Guide Newsletter’, a weekly digest sent to all students, on 31 July.


Last night a student died suddenly at the Rochester and Rutherford Hall of Residence.

The death has been reported as sudden and not suspicious, often used by the media as code for a suspected suicide.

UC acting vice-chancellor, Dr Hamish Cochrane was quoted by the media as saying “all the university’s students and staff were advised [Sunday], and made aware of the support available”.

Communication to students consisted solely of a UC blog post listing four UC support services that are available to students, including the UC Health Centre. Links to blog posts appear for a few days in the sidebar of Learn, UC’s online learning management system which is regularly accessed by students and staff. However, no email was sent to students, and there was no acknowledgment that a student had died.

Late on Sunday night, a link to the blog post was included in the ‘Insider’s Guide Newsletter’ emailed to students.

UC Health Centre Counselling under pressure

Students are struggling to access support.

The UC Health Centre provides free counselling to UC students, however their website states that counselling appointments “are in high demand [and] you may have to wait a few weeks to be seen”. During office hours there is an on-call counsellor to deal with students facing an “emergency situation”.

During this year’s UCSA elections one group of candidates asked students on Facebook which one out of four campaign policies they thought was most important. “Increased mental health awareness and support” was voted second. In response to a question asking how the UCSA should help support those with mental health issues, students voted overwhelmingly for “increased health centre funding for more counsellors”.

Students wanting to skip the UC Health Centre counselling waiting list could choose to pay for sessions with a private counsellor or psychologist. Students may be eligible for the disability allowance, however there are restrictions, including a maximum payment of $61.69 a week (appointments with private psychologists can cost $150 or more).

No money spent by airports on ‘lost luggage’ auctions

Airport passengers with luggage

Last month the member’s bill of Nuk Korako, a National Party list MP, was drawn from the ballot. The Airport Authorities (Publicising Lost Property Sales) Amendment Bill will replace, in relation to the advertisement of lost property auctions: “the insertion of suitable advertisements in a newspaper circulating in the district where the airport is situated” with “publicising the sale in what the authority considers to be a fair and reasonable manner”.

The Bill is unnecessary

The explanatory note to the Bill says that it “would allow authorities to use modern means of communication as well as future, unforeseen, means of communications as the airport authority may determine fit.” This isn’t true. The current Airport Authorities Act does not restrict airports from advertising any auction in new media. If airports wanted to advertise their auctions on their website, Facebook, or Snapchat, there would be nothing stopping them.

The Airport Authorities Act only provides a suggested template for what airports may wish to include in any bylaws they create. The Act states:

any local authority or airport authority may, in respect of the airport which it operates, make such bylaws as it thinks fit for all or any of the following purposes:

 

 

(ff) providing for the establishing and maintaining of facilities at the airport for the reception and storage of lost property, and, after the insertion of suitable advertisements in a newspaper circulating in the district where the airport is situated, providing for the sale by way of auction of any such property that is unclaimed after being held by the authority for not less than 3 months:

 

provided that in the case of lost property which is perishable or valueless the bylaws may provide for the disposal of the property in such manner as may be determined by the authority

This does not mean that airports must have this as a bylaw. Many airports do not have any bylaws at all. Hawke’s Bay Airport has a lost property bylaw, however it only requires that those finding lost property hand it in.

It follows that if an airport does have a clause requiring the advertising of a lost property auction in a local newspaper, for example, Auckland International Airport, amending the Airport Authorities Act will not change that bylaw. The airport would have to have the bylaw changed, which could happen even if Mr Korako’s Bill does not pass.

Airport lost property auctions are rare and advertising them is free

I asked eight airports how much money they spent on advertisements for lost property auctions within the last year. Of the six that replied, only one airport, Dunedin Airport, has held an auction and placed an advertisement for it in the last year. The cost to them? $0. The Otago Daily Times doesn’t charge them.

The responses from the airports are below this post.

Airports don’t care

Airports don’t have an issue with this part of the Airport Authorities Act. The Ministry of Transport did not receive any submissions on this part when they were reviewing airport legislation.

In any case, minor and technical changes to acts can be made through the annual Statutes Amendment Bill.

To be fair, Mr Korako isn’t solely to blame. Minister Simon Bridges had the opportunity to include this Bill as part of the Ministry of Transport’s review of the Airport Authorities Act, but chose not to. It’s more convenient for the government that Mr Korako’s bill reduces the chance an opposition member’s bill will be drawn.

A similar bill that should be included in the Statutes Amendment Bill instead of taking up Parliament resources is Matt Doocey’s Companies (Annual Report Notice Requirements) Amendment Bill which also was recently introduced to Parliament.

The government wants to block bills from opposition members that might make them confront difficult issues that aren’t on their agenda. This Bill is a waste of Parliament’s time and resources, and as Andrew Geddis said, we, as New Zealanders, deserve better.

Airports respond

Queenstown Airport

Queenstown Airport has a bylaw that covers lost property, however it has not held an auction within the last year, instead it has donated property to the Salvation Army. The property was not of significant value and included: second-hand clothing, sunglasses, reading glasses and books.

Christchurch International Airport

Christchurch International Airport has a bylaw that covers lost property, however the airport has not placed any lost property auction advertisements within the last year.

Dunedin Airport

Dunedin Airport is the only airport that replied that has placed an advertisement for a lost property auction within the last year. They are not charged for placing the advertisements, which run in the Otago Daily Times.

Their policy is to advertise lost property twice in the Otago Daily Times with all property being held for at least three months before being auctioned. Any remaining property is donated to charity. Any valuable item or identity documents are handed to the airport police

The Airport provided an example of an advertisement they have recently run.

Invercargill Airport

Invercargill Airport has not placed an advertisement for a lost property auction within the last year. They donate lost property to charity or give it to the police.

Invercargill Airport does not have a bylaw relating to lost property. They have a lost property policy from 2012, and a draft replacement policy written in 2015 that has not been approved.

Hokitika Airport

Hokitika Airport has not received any lost property since 2002. They have no written policy on lost property. In practice, any lost property is handed to Air New Zealand staff as it likely belongs to one of their passengers or someone accompanying one of their passengers and Hokitika Airport staff are not present at the airport on a regular basis.

Hawke’s Bay/Napier Airport

Hawke’s Bay Airport has a bylaw relating to lost property, however the bylaw does not cover the disposal or auction of that property.

They have not placed an advertisement for a lost property auction within the last year.

Auckland and Wellington International Airports

Auckland and Wellington airports are not subject to the Official Information Act. Auckland International Airport reportedly donates at least some lost property to charity. Wellington International Airport passes valuables to the police.

Nelson and Palmerston North Airports

Nelson and Palmerston North airports did not respond to an Official Information Act request within the statutory timeframe.

Image credit: Monika