Opinion: Time for Dotcom to front up with allegations about Key

The time has come for Kim Dotcom to put up or shut up.

The time has come for this very intelligent, very canny but highly manipulative individual to front with his yet-to-be-made-public disclosures which he boasts will blow John Key out of the water - and though Mr Dotcom does not say it directly, presumably bring a rapid end to Mr Key's days as prime minister.

The time has come for Mr Dotcom to prove way beyond any reasonable doubt Mr Key has lied repeatedly when challenged as to when exactly he became aware or was made aware of the former Megaupload mogul's existence. If Mr Dotcom cannot or will not do that, he should zip it.

As a New Zealand resident, though not a citizen and thus unable to stand for Parliament, Mr Dotcom otherwise has the same political rights accorded any voter. But turning the coming election campaign into even more of a circus - with the result it is further divorced from people's day-to-day lives - is not one of them.

Before those on the left misinterpret that statement as attempting to absolve Mr Key in advance, they might like to ponder the potential electoral repercussions if Mr Dotcom's assertions turn out to be little more than hot air.

Mr Key will stand or fall on the strength of Mr Dotcom's case. The time has come for the country to hear it and appraise it. The time has come for Mr Dotcom to cut the babble and prove Mr Key is the one talking nonsense when the latter insists that until the eve of the police raid on Mr Dotcom's Coatesville mansion, he did not know of Mr Dotcom, let alone that Mr Dotcom was living in his Helensville electorate, nor that Mr Dotcom was the subject of a major FBI investigation even though the intelligence agencies for which Mr Key has ministerial responsibility had known that was the case for at least 15 months before the raid.

If the prime minister has not been telling the truth, then, as Mr Dotcom and his supporters argue, it is a matter of paramount importance even if what the two leaders are arguing about could hardly be more trivial.

It follows that New Zealanders are surely entitled to know whether or not Mr Key's word is utterly devoid of trustworthiness. And told today. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not next month. And most surely not when it is most politically advantageous for the leadership of Internet Mana - Mr Dotcom, Laila Harre and Hone Harawira.

To keep everyone else on tenterhooks until Mr Dotcom reveals all at an Internet Mana party rally at the Auckland Town Hall just five days before September's general election may be a very cunning tactical move. It is also a very cynical one.

It is also not risk-free. It could yet backfire on Mr Dotcom and his party.

It is clever because some 20% or more of those who do vote do not make up their minds until the final week of the election campaign. That percentage is probably even higher for the kind of non-aligned voter Internet Mana is targeting. If Mr Dotcom delivers the goods, then naturally it will be a huge story which would throw Mr Key deep into the resignation quicksand.

As was the case in 2011 with the Epsom cup of tea - the tete-a-tete between Mr Key and Act New Zealand's John Banks - the by-product could be that Opposition parties other than Internet Mana, having planned their campaigns and, more specifically, their advertising budgets, in order to reach a crescendo in the final week before polling day, could instead find themselves utterly peripheral to the action.

Mr Dotcom's gambit is even more high risk for Internet Mana. Tackling any prime minister, let alone one as popular, smart, adept and seemingly Teflon-coated as Mr Key, is not a task for the faint-hearted - or the over-confident.

The stakes simply do not get any higher than this. Foolishly, Mr Dotcom has raised expectations to a level which is so high that falling short even by a small margin will be see him torn apart by the media and become subject to ridicule.

The historical comparison with which Mr Dotcom might well acquaint himself is the argy-bargy surrounding Don Brash's embarrassing supposed quip as National's leader to a visiting delegation of American senators that Labour's anti-nuclear law would be ''gone by lunchtime'' if National won that year's election. National went into damage-control and denied Mr Brash had said it. Mr Brash could not remember. But clearly he had. Even so, Labour never quite pinned the remark on Mr Brash to the degree it had hoped for.

If Mr Dotcom's case similarly relies on hearsay or circumstantial evidence in any way, then he would be best advised to work on an exit strategy - one which sees him exiting now. Or at least as quickly as he can without losing too much face.

Mr Key, in contrast, has said little he might later regret, but done much to try to second-guess exactly what Mr Dotcom seems to think he has on him.

When Mr Dotcom first suggested Mr Key had known of him some time before Mr Key claims to have heard of him, the prime minister and his staff, both in Wellington and Helensville, turned their desks, filing cabinets and computer records inside out and upside down in the search for anything that might be incriminating even in the slightest. They found nothing.

Lastly, Mr Dotcom should ponder over this scenario. If Mr Key is caught out, he will likely apologise and then make his credibility the very issue for the final days of the campaign. He will be able to wager his huge stocks of popularity on voters viewing any conflict over what he said about Mr Dotcom and what he knew about Mr Dotcom as a minor indiscretion.

Again, the argument is probably too trivial to destroy Mr Key. But Mr Dotcom needs a change of government if he is to have any hope of avoiding extradition to the United States. And Mr Key's hard-to-believe ignorance of his existence is one of the few means Mr Dotcom has of securing such a change.

- John Armstrong is The New Zealand Herald political correspondent.

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