WikiLeaks founder held on sex charges as US considers 'spy' move
Published 08/12/2010 | 05:00
Informal discussions have already been held between American and Swedish officials about the possibility of the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, being delivered into US custody, according to diplomatic sources.
Mr Assange was in a British jail last night awaiting extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted over allegations that he sexually assaulted two women.
The 39-year-old Australian was refused bail at City of Westminster magistrates court yesterday on the grounds there was a risk he would abscond, despite a number of prominent public figures offering sureties.
His arrest earlier in the day was described by the US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, as "good news". The US Justice Department is considering charging Mr Assange with espionage offences after his website released classified US diplomatic files.
Right-wing US politicians are pressing for his prosecution and even execution. Sarah Palin, the former vice-presidential candidate, said he should be pursued with the same vigour as al-Qai'da and Taliban leaders.
Mr Assange's appearance in the London court put Britain in the centre of the controversy and recrimination over the publication of thousands of diplomatic cables that have caused acute embarrassment to the US administration.
The Swedish government is seeking to extradite Mr Assange over alleged sex offences involving two women. Sources stressed that no extradition request from Washington would be considered unless the US government laid charges against Mr Assange, and that attempts to send him to America would take place only after legal proceedings were concluded in Sweden.
Mr Assange went voluntarily to a London police station, accompanied by solicitors, after an international warrant was issued.
Film director Ken Loach, the journalist John Pilger and Jemima Khan, the sister of the Tory MP Zac Goldsmith, were among those offering to stand bail to the sum of £180,000 (€213,829). But District Judge Howard Riddle remanded Mr Assange in custody until next week, saying he was a flight risk.
Gemma Lindfield, appearing for the Swedish authorities, said she opposed bail because there was a risk Mr Assange would fail to surrender -- and also for his own protection.
She outlined five reasons why there was a risk: his "nomadic" lifestyle; reports that he intended to seek asylum in Switzerland; access to money from donors; his global network of contacts; and his Australian nationality.
Ms Lindfield added: "This is someone for whom, simply put, there is no condition, even the most stringent, that would ensure he would surrender to the jurisdiction of this court."
Ms Lindfield said Mr Assange was wanted over four alleged sex offences. One charge is that he had unprotected sex with a woman, identified only as Miss A, when she insisted he use a condom. Another is that he had unprotected sex with another woman, Miss W, while she was asleep.
Judge Riddle said: "This case is not, on the face of it, about WikiLeaks. It is an allegation in another European country of serious sexual offences alleged to have occurred on three separate occasions and involving two separate victims. These are extremely serious allegations. If these allegations are true, then no one could argue the defendant should be granted bail."
However, he added: "If they are false, he suffers a great injustice if he is remanded in custody. At this stage, the nature and strength of the allegations is not known."
Mr Assange's solicitor, John Jones, said: "Mr Assange has made repeated requests that the allegations against him be communicated to him in a language he understands. That has been ignored by the Swedish prosecutor."
The pressure on WikiLeaks, which relies on online donations, continued after Visa and Mastercard suspended all payments to its website. (© Independent News Service)