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Seth Rich's family calls Kim Dotcom claims "Ridiculous"

Newsweek logo Newsweek 23/05/2017 Max Kutner
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The Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom, who the United States Department of Justice has accused of illegal activity, claimed on Tuesday that he has firsthand knowledge that murdered Democratic National Committee (DNC) staffer Seth Rich was involved in the leak of emails.

Dotcom, whose birth name is Kim Schmitz, posted a statement to his website claiming, "I know that Setch [sic] Rich was involved in the DNC leak." He went on to write that in 2014, a person using the pseudonym "Panda" contacted him about starting a U.S. branch of the Internet Party, a political group Dotcom founded in New Zealand in 2014 focused on internet freedom and privacy. "I now know that Panda was Seth Rich," Dotcom wrote.

Rich's family has maintained that there is no proof connecting his death to the DNC leak. "The Rich family is tired of having to respond to accusations," Brad Bauman, a family spokesman, said in a statement. "The burden of proof is on Mr. Dotcom to either prove he has evidence or face the consequences of damaging Seth's good name and creating more emotional hardship on a grieving family. The family is not going to entertain his ridiculous, manipulative and completely non-credible statements."

Dotcom is the founder of Megaupload, a now-defunct file hosting service that the Justice Department described in 2012 as part of "an international organized criminal enterprise allegedly responsible for massive worldwide online piracy." The Justice Department charged Dotcom and others associated with Megaupload with engaging in racketeering conspiracy, conspiracy to commit copyright infringement, conspiracy to commit money laundering and criminal copyright infringement.

Authorities arrested Dotcom on those charges in Auckland, New Zealand, where he lived. In February, a New Zealand judge upheld an earlier court decision that said the country could extradite Dotcom to the U.S. That extradition has not yet happened. If convicted, he could face up to several decades in prison.

On July 10, 2016, Rich was shot while walking home late at night from a bar in Washington, D.C. He later died. Police suggested the incident was a botched robbery. As of mid-May, the police investigation was active.

Less than two weeks later, on July 22, WikiLeaks released 44,053 emails and 17,761 attachments belonging to the DNC. People on the political right have put forth a theory—without hard evidence— that Rich supplied the documents and that the DNC or Hillary Clinton may have arranged his murder. WikiLeaks offered a reward for information that helps solve the case and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange once seemed to hint that Rich was the informant.

Speculation around Rich's role in the WikiLeaks emails dump has intensified in the past week. On March 15, Rod Wheeler, a private investigator working on behalf of Rich's family, told a Fox affiliate he knew of evidence linking Rich to WikiLeaks. The next day, Fox News reported that a "federal investigator" had corroborated Wheeler's comments and that an FBI analysis of Rich's computer showed he had transferred the DNC emails and attachments to Gavin MacFadyen, a man who had ties to WikiLeaks before his death last October.

But on May 17, the day after Fox News published its article, Newsweek reported it had learned that the FBI is not investigating the case. And Wheeler, the private investigator, seemed to walk back his previous comments.

Yet on the right, people continued to speculate about Rich's murder. Fox News host Sean Hannity ran multiple segments on the killing, Roger Stone and Newt Gingrich, who both have ties to President Donald Trump, called for a federal investigation and the Russian Embassy in London tweeted, "Who killed Seth Rich?"

On Tuesday, Dotcom said that "Panda" told him he was working on voter analytics tools, which Rich is known to have done for the DNC, and that they discussed "topics including corruption and the influence of corporate money in politics."

Dotcom said he has been in touch with Rich's family and that he has consulted with his lawyers. "I accept that my full statement should be provided to the authorities and I am prepared to do that so that there can be a full investigation." He said he is willing to provide evidence to the U.S. if Robert Mueller, the special counsel overseeing the FBI's investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential election, grants him safe passage to and from New Zealand. "In the coming days, we will be communicating with the appropriate authorities to make the necessary arrangements," Dotcom said.

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On Tuesday, Aaron Rich, Seth's brother, wrote in a letter to Porter Berry, the executive producer of Hannity's show, "Providing a platform to spread potentially false, damaging information will cause us additional pain, suffering and sorrow.... Think about how you would feel losing a son or brother."

Aaron Rich also wrote that someone claiming to be Dotcom had contacted the family. He said the family responded to the message, saying it wanted to discuss the apparent evidence, but the person behind the message did not reply to the family's email.

Asked to comment on Aaron Rich's letter, a Fox News spokesperson responded to Newsweek with a more general statement regarding the outlet's May 16 report. "The article was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting," the statement said. "Upon appropriate review, the article was found not to meet those standards and has since been removed. We will continue to investigate this story and will provide updates as warranted."

Hannity has continued to push the theory. On Tuesday, he linked to a tweet by Dotcom about his statement and wrote, "Wow. PLEASE READ ASAP."

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