Kim Dotcom dominates 2012
Kim Dotcom (Reuters)
There's only one contender for the title of New Zealand's biggest newsmaker of 2012.
Kim Dotcom, a larger than life German multimillionaire living in a mansion near Auckland, was known by relatively few bar file sharers and online game fanatics at the beginning of the year.
But the police raid on Dotcom mansion on January 20 changed that quickly, and the sagas surrounding him caused major headaches for the police, a spy agency, ACT MP John Banks and Prime Minister John Key.
Dotcom was arrested on behalf of the United States, where he's wanted on internet piracy charges along with co-accused Finn Batato, Mathias Ortmann and Bram van der Kolk.
In a series of court cases, Dotcom showed an appetite for a fight, and to show up New Zealand authorities.
Dotcom has successfully argued to date that search warrants for the initial raids were invalid, as was the Crown's decision to ship some evidence to the United States without his permission.
But the biggest blunder came from the Government Communications Security Bureau, or GCSB, which spied illegally on Dotcom and van der Kolk. They are both New Zealand residents, on whom the spy agency has no powers to snoop.
It would haunt Mr Key, the minister in charge of the GCSB. He spent some time defending accusations that he knew about the GCSB spying on Dotcom before September, and that if he didn't, he should have kept a closer eye on it.
Mr Key's troubles didn't compare to those of Mr Banks, after Dotcom claimed ACT's sole MP told him to split a $50,000 donation to his unsuccessful 2010 Auckland mayoralty campaign into two chunks.
It led to a complaint to police that Mr Banks had illegally declared donations as anonymous when he knew who they were from. Police chose not to prosecute, but documents from their inquiry still left clouds over Mr Banks.
The biggest stories of the past two years remained in the news in 2012 as inquiries tried to make sense of them.
As the slow process of rebuilding earthquake-ravaged Christchurch continued, questions continued to be asked about the collapse of the CTV building, where 115 people died.
A royal commission said the building was poorly designed, should never have been allowed a permit by the council because it didn't meet the building standards of the time, and that it was green stickered after the September 2010 earthquake without an engineer assessment.
In a separate inquest, the Fire Service's performance in trying to rescue people not initially killed by the quakes at the CTV building came under close scrutiny.
Meanwhile, many were criticised in a damning royal commission report into the 2010 Pike River disaster, which killed 29 people.
It found there were 21 reports of methane levels reaching explosive volumes in the 48 days before the first explosion, and that managers were so focused on short-term coal production, they never considered the risk of an explosion and missed warning signs.
Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson resigned after the report also found the Labour Department's oversight of the mining industry had become lax and the mining inspectorate's role eroded too far.
Pike River Coal, and its boss Peter Whittall, continue to face court action.
Mining was one of many industries to suffer in a bad year for employment. State-owned Solid Energy shed more than 400 jobs, many at the Spring Creek and Huntly mines, blaming falling world coal prices.
There were significant job losses elsewhere and by the end of the year unemployment was up to 7.3 per cent. Opposition parties launched an inquiry into what it says is a crisis in manufacturing.
New Zealand had no disasters on the scale of Pike River or Canterbury Earthquake in 2012, but the year started badly when a hot-air balloon crashed killing all 11 people on board at Carterton on January 4.
As the year was drawing to a close residents of West Auckland suburbs Hobsonville and Whenuapai were reeling from tornadoes on December 6 that killed three, rendered 22 homes uninhabitable and damaged hundreds more.
The balloon tragedy brought more questions over the safety and regulation of the adventure tourism industry, particularly after an interim crash report found pilot Lance Hopping had cannabis in his system.
It was also revealed two instructors in a Fox Glacier crash which killed nine in 2010 had cannabis in their system. Other safety problems caused that crash, but it prompted the father of an English victim to say adventure tourists should think twice about visiting New Zealand.
Bail laws came under continued scrutiny as Akshay Anand Chand was found not guilty by insanity after killing Christie Marceau while on bail, as did prison release rules when the "Beast of Blenheim", Stewart Murray Wilson, was released in Whanganui.
Two trials in particular grabbed the limelight. Early in the year, activist Tame Iti was one of four found guilty of firearms charges over alleged military camps in the Ureweras in 2007, a case now appealed to the Supreme Court.
In a trial which drew large galleries in Wellington, Ewen Macdonald was cleared of murdering his brother-in-law Scott Guy in Feilding in July 2010, though he was later jailed for other crimes.
Kim Dotcom's attempts to prevent extradition to the US will be just as keenly watched in 2013.