US ‘likely’ to request Assange extradition
The authorities in America are likely to file a request with their British counterparts for Julian Assange's extradition, the WikiLeaks founder's former lawyer said at the weekend.
Mark Stephens, the English solicitor who represented Assange during the earlier stages of his case, told The Times: “There is already a warrant under seal that was communicated to Interpol under the previous Obama administration.”
However, Assange's present lawyer in the US called on the UK government to allow the Australian to leave the country. Barry Pollack, based in Washington, said Assange had been “unlawfully detained for years” and that “at this point it is more apparent than ever that the UK should provide Mr Assange safe passage to Ecuador”.
Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London for five years while Swedish prosecutors considered allegations of sexual assault made against him. They announced on Friday that they had dropped the investigation and that Assange had no case to answer in Sweden.
On the balcony of the Ecuadorean embassy, Assange proclaimed victory after the decision of Marianne Ny, the Swedish director of public prosecutions. Assange, who said he avoided extradition to Sweden because he feared that he would be sent from there to the US, had been accused of raping an activist as she slept.
The US authorities want to speak to Assange about the publication on WikiLeaks of hundreds of thousands of classified and otherwise sensitive diplomatic and military documents. The files were leaked by Chelsea Manning when she was a soldier known as Bradley Manning. Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for her involvement in the leak but was pardoned by President Obama at the end of his term late last year, and was released last week.
It is understood that Assange will now seek asylum in France. Stephens, a partner at the London law firm Howard Kennedy, pointed out that the French have stronger restrictions on extradition to the US than the UK.
Edward Grange, a partner at London law firm Corker Binning, pointed out that Assange faces a legal hurdle en route to France, however. “There still exists an extant arrest warrant issued for Mr Assange by Westminster magistrates' court for his failure to surrender to the court,” he said. “Unless this is withdrawn, should Mr Assange step foot outside the Ecuadorean embassy he would be liable for arrest and, if arrested, would be likely to receive a custodial sentence for his deliberate failure to surrender.”