The figure in the picture has many names, but only one thing is certain - he is currently Finland's most famous criminal.
By Matti Koskinen
A moon-faced man smiles from the TV screen. A pair of innocent-looking button eyes stare back from the middle of the round features, like a little boy all grown up.
He is Kim Dotcom, a German-Finnish computer hacker, millionaire, and shady businessman.
In a recent television interview, the 38-year-old Dotcom spoke for the first time since January 20th, when armed police with helicopters entered his EUR 23 million mansion in Coatesville, N.W. of Auckland and arrested Dotcom and several associates.
For those who had never heard the name before, this high-profile police raid made Kim Dotcom a world-famous celebrity criminal.
And thousands of miles away, Finland, too, got a little bit of fame. On the roof of the impressive mansion fluttered a familiar blue-and-white Finnish flag.
Dotcom was released on bail and placed under house arrest at the beginning of March.
The next phase will be to determine if he can be extradited to the United States to stand trial there.
Dotcom faces a swath of charges connected to the operation of his file sharing company Megaupload.com.
The FBI and American movie and music industry representatives accuse Dotcom and his five associates of "copyright infringement on a massive scale, with estimated harm to copyright holders well in excess of 500 million US dollars" and of money laundering.
If convicted, Dotcom is looking at tens of years of prison time.
And the root cause is Megaupload, which Dotcom founded in 2005.
Every self-respecting teenage netizen (and a good few older users besides) knows that Megaupload is a veritable cornucopia of illegal music, films, games, and software uploaded to the site by its users and downloaded by millions of others.
Megaupload is only one of many similar file sharing services operating on the same principle, but it is head and shoulders the largest of its type by traffic.
Before the site was shut down in January, it was said that as much as 4% of the global internet bandwidth usage passed through its servers.
"I’m no piracy king, I offered online storage and bandwidth to users and that’s it", Dotcom tells the 3 News interviewer John Campbell, and he looks at the camera with doe eyes.
"I'm just an easy target. My flamboyance, my history as a hacker, you know, I’m not American... I have funny number plates on my cars. You know, I’m an easy target."
Certainly yes, in one respect. Dotcom is not hard to miss. He is nearly two metres tall (6'4") and the TV-screen does no justice to his imposing 130-kilo (roughly 300 lbs) frame.
But beyond his mere bulk, he is even better known for his larger-than-life ego and persona.
Over the years, that "flamboyance" he refers to and his tendency to flaunt his considerable wealth has been well-documented.
Dotcom has driven across Europe in his Mercedes Brabus SV 12 in the barely-legal Gumball 3000 road rally, he has promised a ten-million dollar reward for the capture of Osama bin Laden, and he has revealed that he is (and this is true) the world's highest-ranked player of the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 first-person shoot-em-up video game.
In images and videos, an overweight Dotcom poses beside his private helicopter (stamped with www.kimble.org on the fuselage), his fleet of luxury cars, and schmoozing with his celebrity friends and acquaintances.
The typical excessive enthusiasm for excess of the suddenly-wealthy shines from every pore.
Aside from his own self-generated publicity stunts, little is known of the man for certain.
There is particularly scant information to be had about his Finnish roots, for instance.
Dotcom has a Finnish passport, and he has changed his name in Finland on a number of occasions.
he has relatives in Turku, and he is known to have hung out and partied in Helsinki with former F1 World Champion Kimi Räikkönen and his wife Jenni Dahlman among others.
More precise details of the millionaire with the Finnish background are very hard to come by.
Kim Dotcom's incredible story is a cocktail of fact and outrageous fiction, and is filled with vague references and details.
At the same time it is a tale of the internet, of the online gold rush, and of the taming of the digital frontier.
Kim Dotcom was born in 1974 as Kim Schmitz in the harbour city of Kiel in Northern Germany.
Schmitz has reported that his father was a captain on a luxury cruise liner.
His Finnish mother was a cook. The parents divorced when Kim was a young boy.
Mother, Kim, and Kim's elder brother and sister moved to Munich.
Last December Kim told the TorrentFreak blog his father was an alcoholic "who used to beat my mother and myself into hospital many times".
As a teenager, Schmitz began to hang out with hacker types, using the sobriquet Kimble, after "Richard Kimble", the hunted protagonist in the classic TV-series The Fugitive.
This name stuck as a long-term alter ego.
Already by this stage, Schmitz's ego was too large for just one name.
When the world began to accustom itself in the early 1990s to the idea of criss-crossing international data networks, hackers were a new and interesting phenomenon.
Kimble spoke freely about the subject in public.
At the age of 18, he bragged in an interview with Forbes magazine that he had hacked the access codes to the PBX systems (private branch exchanges) of hundreds of US companies, and he claimed that “every PBX is an open door to me”.
In actual fact... he couldn't write a single line of code.
The real hackers could not abide the conceited and motormouthed Kimble.
On their message boards he was mocked and reviled, and in the end he was kick-banned from the German hackers' Chaos Computer Club.
"Kim didn't know anything about computers, but he could talk a good game", says former hacker turned IT entrepreneur Andreas Zauner, interviewed for a January article on Dotcom in The Australian.
"He was great at copying. He nicked the ideas for all of his file-sharing websites from others, but he was very convincing and he could be extremely charming when he wanted. He could turn shit into gold."
Schmitz then harnessed his hacker reputation to the data security business.
In 1994, he set up a company in this branch called DataProtect.
His career as a legit businessman was admittedly to fall at pretty much the first hurdle.
Only a couple of months after the launch, he was arrested for hacking and credit-card fraud offences committed as a minor.
Schmitz and a former flatmate from Munich Thomas Schuchhardt had been selling stolen account numbers to phone calling cards, and they had also made a bundle with credit-card scams.
Schmitz spent time in custody, but got off with a two-year suspended sentence.
As the IT-boom began to gather momentum in the second half of the 1990s, Schmitz took to appearing as some kind of investment wizard for the emerging new economy.
He developed the Megacar, a tuned 400-bhp Mercedes S500 "car of the future" that came with state-of-the-art electronics, including 17" display screens and a battery of GSM-modules to provide early broadband mobile telephony, and at the same time he raked in money by selling chunks of DataProtect.
"[Schmitz] once called me, when he was around 25, and said, 'Andy, I have got six million dollars in my bank account. That's not bad, is it? What do you say to that?' He thought I would be impressed", Andreas Zauner recalls to The Australian.
And Kim Schmitz was by no means content simply to advertise his new-found wealth to his mates.
The world would come to know him as a living, breathing example of the IT-boom axiom: internet = money.
In a lengthy and fascinating article from April 2010, the New Zealand current affairs magazine Investigate reports how Schmitz "had been seen at Munich Airport in 1999 photographing himself inside planes parked on the tarmac, apparently in a bid to boost his claim that he owned a private jet".
He told the Sunday Telegraph he owned a venture capital company worth USD 200 million.
He also claimed he had hacked Citibank and had transferred USD 20 million to Greenpeace.
Greenpeace refutes the Citibank story and says it is pure fiction.
In 2001, Schmitz hired a film-crew, rented a fleet of Ferraris, and drove with his pals to Monaco to watch the Formula One Grand Prix, spending his time in the resort on an 81-metre chartered luxury yacht moored offshore, and in the company of a bevy of Playboy models.
This boys-with-toys road trip was worked up into an absurd half-hour "documentary" entitled Kimble Goes Monaco. See it for yourself from the arstechnica.com link.
"The thing that I quickly learnt about Kim was his inability to do anything by half measures. If he charters a boat, he charters the BIGGEST one available, and if he does the Gumball he does it to WIN it!”, says British-born entrepreneur Maximillion Cooper, founder of the Gumball 3000 Rally, and friend of Dotcom.
Kim raced (it's not a race as such) under the name "Dr. Evil", and had a personal photographer along for the ride and bodyguards in two other cars.
Yes, he did win.
Continues in Part II
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print in the weekly magazine Nyt on 30.3.2012
More on this subject:
Kim Dot-Conman? Part II
Previously in HS International Edition:
Arrested Megaupload millionaire Kim Dotcom has Finnish passport (23.1.2012)
Kim Dotcom (Wikipedia)
3NEWS: Kim Dotcom: "I´m no piracy king"
TorrentFreak: From Rogue To Vogue: Megaupload and Kim Dotcom
The Australian: Inside Planet Dotcom, 30.1.2012
Investigate, April 2010: Merry Chrischmitz - International criminal sets up home in Chrisco mansion (.pdf file)
Kimble Goes Monaco, as embedded on Arstechnica.com - "Mega-man: The fast, fabulous, fraudulent life of Megaupload´s Kim Dotcom
Gumball 3000: The Global Phenomenon that is Kim Dotcom - Gumball´s own Dr Evil!
MATTI KOSKINEN / Helsingin Sanomat