Sex.com fraudster ordered to pay $65 million

The battle for the most valuable domain name in history - sex.com - reached its conclusion yesterday when a judge awarded a record US$65 million to the plaintiff, Gary Kremen.

The judge found "clear and convincing evidence" that the defendant, Stephen Cohen, was "guilty of oppression, fraud and malice" and ordered him to pay US$40 million in compensatory damages and US$25 million in punitive damages. In an earlier decision, the California Supreme Court ruled that in 1994, Cohen faked a letter to Network Solutions Inc., the U.S. domain-name registry, transferring the domain name from Kremen to him.

Cohen used an offshore company to set up a porn site that received 25 million hits a day and was reported to be worth US$100 million.

The parties have been battling through the courts to resolve the ownership issue for the last three years.

U.S. District Judge James Ware also ordered that an arrest warrant for Cohen remain outstanding until Cohen surrenders all his property to the court.

No one knows exactly how much money Cohen has made from his empire, since much of it is stashed abroad. Cohen failed to comply with a November court order freezing US$25 million worth of his assets and even once failed to appear in court. He has exercised his right to remain silent when questioned about his worth.

Kremen's attorney, James Wagstaffe, said: "The substantial size of this damage award sends a message that the Internet is not a lawless wasteland. If you take someone else's property, you simply have to give it back."

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