Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom's extradition to the United States has been cleared by New Zealand's second-highest court.
The German-born tech mogul this year asked the New Zealand Court of Appeal to overturn a decision approving his extradition but his request was on Thursday morning turned down.
The Megaupload founder and his three co-accused -- Mathias Ortmann, Bram van der Kolk, and Finn Batato -- were arrested in 2012 in a dramatic police raid and charged with a series of copyright-related offences on behalf of authorities in the US over their roles in running the file-sharing website.
"The United States relied on a range of extradition pathways in seeking the extradition of the appellants. The court has confirmed all of these extradition pathways are available to the United States," a summary of the judgement said.
"An extradition hearing is not a trial on the merits, and the evidence relied on by the United States discloses a clear prima facie case to support the allegations that the appellants conspired to, and did, breach copyright wilfully and on a massive scale for commercial gain."
In an additional blow, the court also overturned a decision by the High Court that New Zealand's copyright laws could not be used for extradition.
The three judges rejected questions about misconduct by the United States in the case, saying it was "not of sufficient importance to warrant a further appeal".
The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has led the case and claims Megaupload was a criminal conspiracy that earned the men $175 million. If extradited and found guilty in the US, the quartet could face decades in jail.
"We are disappointed with today's judgment by the NZ Court of Appeal in the @KimDotcom case," Dotcom's lawyer Ira Rothken said on Twitter. "We have now been to three courts each with a different legal analysis -- one of which thought that there was no copyright infringement at all."
"We will seek review with the NZ Supreme Court."
The ultimate decision on the extradition will rest with New Zealand's Minister of Justice.
In October last year, the United States Supreme Court rejected Dotcom's challenge to the US government's bid to seize assets held by him and others involved in Megaupload.
The justices left in place a lower court's ruling that the US government could seize up to $40 million in assets held outside the United States as part of a civil forfeiture action being pursued in parallel with criminal charges for alleged copyright violations and money laundering.
The US government sought up to $175 million in assets, but the defendants say the assets in question, including two houses, luxury cars, and bank accounts, are worth only around $40 million.
The New Zealand government apologised to Dotcom in 2012 for illegally spying on him.
Since the shutdown of Megaupload, Dotcom launched the storage site Mega, attempted a failed reverse takeover to list Mega on the New Zealand Stock Exchange, and in 2015 claimed the service was controlled by a Chinese investor wanted for fraud and by the New Zealand government after Dotcom's shares in the company were seized.
The company strenuously denied the claims by Dotcom, labelling them defamatory.
In the 2014 New Zealand election, the Internet Party established by Dotcom failed to gain a seat, and its Mana Party partner lost its only seat in Parliament.
Following the election failure, Dotcom announced plans in October 2015 for an alternative internet dubbed Meganet, which he said would be safe, secure, built on blockchain, and impenetrable by anyone, even government bodies.
He also touted the return of Megaupload on the fifth anniversary of the FBI raid, January 20, 2017. Dotcom said former users of the site would get their accounts reinstated with premium privileges, and hinted that the new website will use bitcoins.
Neither of the last two projects have yet seen the light of day.
The US Supreme Court has declined to hear the appeal of NZ-based internet mogul Kim Dotcom against the forfeiture of his property by the US government.
A New Zealand District Court has ruled that Kim Dotcom and his co-accused are eligible to be extradited to the United States.
Dotcom has accused the US of wilfully mistranslating him and of trying to twist the New Zealand legal definition of copyright infringement to mean fraud.
Encrypted cloud storage service Mega has hit back at claims by Kim Dotcom that it is in the hands of a wanted Chinese investor whose shares have been seized by the New Zealand government.
Internet Party partner Mana lost its seat while their combined effort was well short of the 5 percent threshold required for representation in Parliament.