Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/12/25/2012_fugitives/

A year on the run: El Reg tracks 2012’s techno-fugitives

Svartholm, Dotcom, McAfee, Assange … Whitman and Ballmer?

By Simon Sharwood

Posted in Bootnotes, 25th December 2012 12:07 GMT

Whoever thought 2012 would be boring without Steve Jobs has been proven wrong ... Tech industry scandal-watchers have been blessed with colourful antics from the likes of Kim Dotcom, Larry Ellison, Julian Assange and more... Meanwhile, a supporting cast of folk like Eugene Kaspersky and Mike Lynch are also fun to watch.

In 2012, most of the gossip has been dominated by a preponderance of IT folk on the run. And we don't mean Meg Whitman and Steve Ballmer, despite increasingly fevered pursuit by shareholders.

We’re more interested in Gottfrid Svartholm, Julian Assange, Kim Dotcom and John McAfee, who gave the IT community the spectacle of dawn raids, embassy dashes, arrests in exotic locales and jungle border crossings.

The first name on the list above, Svartholm, is a co-founder of The Pirate Bay and disappeared in September 2010, when it was thought he was in Cambodia.

That's where he was found and arrested in September. He's now in Sweden, fending off hacking charges. In early December he emerged from a spell in solitary confinement. Whether his time in the hole counts towards the one-year sentence he is due to serve for Pirate-Bay-related naughtiness isn't yet known, but it seems a safe bet to predict Swartholm's 2013 won't be an awful lot of fun.

The same can probably be said of the world's most famous overstaying house guest, Julian Assange.

The white-haired one's story also started before 2012, when he was detained in a country house where he plotted a new television programme while also hoping his fight against extradition to Sweden would succeed. Swedish police wish to question him over allegations of sexual coercion, sexual molestation and rape. He has not been charged and denies any wrongdoing.

By late February, Assange was insisting he had proof the US wanted to haul him there and subject him to dodgy justice.

Not long afterwards, Assange let it be known he’d like to run for Australia’s Senate. He re-announced his candidacy in December, at which point a lot of folks reported it as an entirely novel development.

In late May, Assange lost his appeal against extradition to Sweden, which a few weeks later led him to dash to Ecuador's London embassy where he claimed asylum.

Why Ecuador, the world asked? If they'd watched AssangeTV they'd have had a clue, as in one interview the WikiLeaker seemed pretty chummy with Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa.

Ecuador subsequently agreed to offer him asylum, at which point things got interesting as Assange claimed he had police documents showing a plan to nab him in the event someone tried to smuggle him out the embassy in a burlap sack.

By September The Daily Mail reported, in fine DM style, that the key evidence Swedish police held in the Assange affair – a used prophylactic - had perished.

In Australia a telemovie based on the young Assange’s life debuted, complete with heavy-handed foreshadowing of the teen hacker’s radicalisation. The show was one of the best-rating productions of the year in Australia.

Jordan Raskopoulos as Trax, Alex Williams as Julian Assange and Callan Mcauliffe as Prime Suspect

A scene from the Julian Assange telemovie

Not much has happened since: Assange remains holed up in the embassy, police remain outside and swear they’ll arrest him if he so much as tosses a toenail clipping out the window, and Sweden says all it wants to do is ask him some questions. The USA says it’s terribly unhappy about the whole WikiLeaks thing but simply isn’t the kind of place where secret grand juries issue secret arrest warrants against anyone ... and even if it did want to lock Assange in the deepest darkest dungeon imaginable and submit him to a legal process that makes the courts in Gitmo look less rigorous than an episode of Law and Order, those aren't the sorts of plans it shares with anyone.

At least our next fugitive, Kim Dotcom, has a whole mansion in which to mope about.

Kim Dotcom

As 2012 opened, Dotcom was just a flamboyant cloud storage operator with a business model Hollywood found very interesting indeed.

Then, on 19 January, police kicked in Dotcom's door and hauled him off to chokey on charges of piracy. A video of the raid later emerged.

The case has been rather less visceral since, despite Dotcom's attempts to stir controversy at every point. He's had some wins, notably the New Zealand government's admission that the raid should never have been allowed as Dotcom was a resident of the nation at the time. That status made spying on Dotcom a no-no, but Kiwi spooks forgot to ask about his immigration status. Dotcom's now suing all sorts of people.

The meat of the case against Dotcom - which alleged that megaupload was a haven for pirates - is also in trouble after revelations that the FBI had asked the website to hang onto some pirated files to assist it with other investigations. Megaupload did so, but it turns out some of the files in question were then cited by the FBI as pirated material the outfit was hosting.

A poster for Kim Dotcom's Christmas Panto

Kim Dotcom has also found time to appear in a Christmas panto, for which this is a poster

Dotcom will face extradition proceedings in March 2013, months after he launches the new mega.co.nz service he's already started talking up.

John McAfee

Which brings us to the late-breaking story of John McAfee, the billionaire founder of the Intel-absorbed security software outfit bearing his surname.

McAfee had dropped out of sight in balmy Belize until, around 12 November, a neighbour died in mysterious circumstances. McAfee was wanted for questioning by local authorities but said the Belizean authorities were out to get him for unspecified reasons.

McAfee fled, pausing only to blog about how much of a hassle it was to flee.

In a move celebrated by journalists everywhere, McAfee then fibbed in his blog, saying he had been arrested on the Belize/Mexico border but actually managed to find his way to Guatemala - whereupon he apologised for the success of his misdirection.

He was actually in Guatemala, where he was locked up, hospitalised for a suspected heart attack and eventually deported in a cruel and unusual manner: an economy class flight on American Airlines.

That flight touched down in Miami, where McAfee was able to breathe the sweet air of freedom... and start spending shedloads of cash on lawyers to prevent Belize from dragging him back.

2013 will see the Assange and Dotcom sagas continue and it is to be hoped that other tech headliners go on the run to make headlines of their own. We quite like the idea of Larry Ellison taking to one of his yachts to avoid pursuit, or Huawei execs "disappearing" before US authorities ask more questions about their kit. ®