Ex Dotcom backer funds new Whale Oil site with 10 staff

The journalist/blogger distinction may no longer be an issue for Whale Oil founder Cameron Slater.

The controversial media personality will start a news website before this year’s general election.

NBR ONLINE understands Instra managing founder Tony Lentino is funding the news website which Cameron Slater says will have 10 staff.

Mr Slater will not confirm Mr Lentino’s involvement but says one private investor has contributed a six-figure sum for the site.

He says the investor was motivated to act after being frustrated at the quality of news and journalism in New Zealand.

Mr Lentino is known for bankrolling Kim Dotcom’s living costs, and as Mega's original CEO and, at one, point, largest investor. But in May he pulled his investment, citing "principles". He did not respond to NBR ONLINE’s request for comment.

Mr Slater refuses to comment on the business model for the news website but says funding is sufficient for a year and advertising will not be needed.

Mr Slater’s associate, Regan Cunliffe, has registered a domain name, freed.co.nz, but Mr Slater said this was only one of many options for the site.

Mr Cunliffe is the founder of TV website Throng.

Mr Slater says the Whale Oil site will continue at the same time and the sites may break stories together. 

The blogger was in court earlier this month arguing that Whale Oil was a news site and he was a journalist, enabling him to protect his sources under the Evidence Act. The result is not yet known.

vyoung@nbr.co.nz


Lentino with sister Vinnie Hill at Mega's January 2013 launch party (Chris Keall)

Who is Tony Lentino?

Tony Lentino made his fortune from his current company, Instra, which sells domain names (internet addresses) worldwide. In January 2013 he told NBR revenue was around $20 million and that the privately-held company was "very profitable." He also owns a helicopter rental company, whose wares have often ferried Kim Dotcom.

Instra is based in Melbourne. Mr Lentino was raised across the Tasman, and speaks with a strong Aussie accent. But he was in fact born in NZ, and now  lives on a 404-hectare property on Wellsford north of Auckland.

It was on his farm that Mr Lentino met Mr Dotcom when he hosted a drag racing event on his property's airstrip, he told NBR.

After Kim Dotcom's January 2012 arrest, Mr Lentino spent hundreds of thousands paying the rent on the accused pirate's Coatesville mansion, and his family's living expenses, before funds were unfrozen.

When Mega launched a year later, Mr Dotcom and Mr Lentino said they saw potential synergies between Mega and Mr Lentino's core business Instra, but the plan never amounted to anything tangible.

Mr Lentino was Mega's first CEO, temporarily filling the position before Vikram Kumar was recruited as the file sharing service's first full-time head. He was also the new company's largest shareholder for a time. He quit his stake in May ahead of Mega's controversial reverse listing on the NZX (now scheduled for August), telling NBR, "I got involved two and half years ago because of principles and that is also why I left."

If he has dirt on Dotcom, and is inclined to spill it, it could appear on expanded Whale Oil site he's apparently bankrolling.

Chris Keall

7 comments
Login in or Register to view & post comments