Number 2 at Megaupload out on bail - but who is he?

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Until recently, only a handful of computer hackers knew Bram van der Kolk. Now the 29-year old Dutchman has gained notoriety as the head programmer for MegaUpload.com. He was among those arrested in New Zealand when the FBI shut down the website last month. The US is seeking his extradition on internet piracy-related charges.

When news of the raid on Megaupload's headquarters was announced on January 19, the Netherlands was surprised to learn that a Dutchman was part of the hugely successful enterprise. Just five years ago, Van der Kolk was still working from a bedroom at his parents' home in the Dutch city of Zwolle. But before long, he would be enjoying a lifestyle that few dare dream of.

Lavish life
With 2.5 percent of the shares in Megaupload, his earnings in 2010 alone exceeded 2 million dollars, according to the FBI. His life in New Zealand centered around the mansion, where he and his business partners worked, ate and slept. There were expensive cars, private yachts, and frequent trips to Hong Kong, the Philippines and Amsterdam.

Van der Kolk is married to Filipino sex symbol Asia Agcaoili, with whom he has a two-year old son. Amsterdam-based fashion photographer Marcus Koppen, who recently did a photo shoot with Ms Agcaoili, confirmed to Radio Netherlands that she cannot be reached now "because of the trouble she and her husband are in." Ms Agcaoili's Dutch mobile telephone number appears to be disconnected.

Van der Kolk was released on bail by a New Zealand judge on Thursday. He is to remain at an Auckland address and will be prevented from communicating with others charged in the case. Under the conditions of Van der Kolk's bail, neither he nor his wife have access to the internet.

Big ambitions
While he was still living a modest life in the Netherlands, Van der Kolk gained experience building websites where users could download music for free. But he befriended Kim Schmitz, alias Kim Dotcom, whose ambitions were far greater. The two men and a small group of associates eventually carried out an ingenious plan, setting up websites that made them a fortune.

According to Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant, Van der Kolk first got to know Kim Dotcom thanks to their shared interest in the Gumball 3000 auto rally. It's an event that's all about being seen, the paper writes, where millionaires speed across the US and Europe in flashy sports cars. In 2004, rally enthusiast Van der Kolk traveled to Paris to film the start and the video he produced caught the attention of Kim Dotcom, who later won the event. The two started chatting and stayed in touch.

Bonus system
Quoting chat messages found online, De Volkskrant describes how their friendship grew into a business arrangement. And how Van der Kolk "vanished from the radar" only to resurface a few years later at Kim Dotcom's mansion in New Zealand. There, he was responsible for introducing a bonus system on Megaupload.com that financially rewarded customers for downloading large quantities of content. This, according to US prosecutors, is proof that the company was aiding and abetting piracy.

When it was still online, Megaupload had 180 million registered customers. The FBI estimates that its daily visitors accounted for 4 percent of the total internet data traffic worldwide. It was the 13th most popular website in existence.

According to a federal grand jury indictment, Van der Kolk and 6 others netted more than 175 million dollars by facilitating the illegal downloading of copyrighted films and music, as well as porn and other media content. US prosecutors want to put all of those involved on trial for conspiring to commit racketeering and money laundering, copyright infringement and other internet piracy-related crimes.

 
(jn)