3 Dec 2010

Arrest warrant expected for WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange

Channel 4 News learns that Britain’s serious crime agency is expecting an arrest warrant application from Sweden for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange. (Reuters)

The Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) had originally received a European arrest warrant application from Swedish authorities to take in Assange, after it was reported he was in Britain, but due to technicalities it could not be used.

If the Swedish authorities use the mechanism to issue another European arrest warrant, and there are no technical problems with it, SOCA will be legally compliant to authorise the arrest of Julian Assange.

The news comes as Assange’s London-based solicitor Mark Stephens claimed that the British police knew the exact whereabouts of the WikiLeaks founder and neither the British authorities nor Sweden had sought to make contact with him.

Mr Stephens said: “The police have given us an undertaking that they will contact us if they want to get in touch with Julian. At this point in time nobody has.”

Assange, 39, is wanted for questioning in Sweden over rape allegations, which he strenuously denies.

The Swedish lawyer for the women who have made the allegations against Assange spoke to NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams earlier.

Claes Borgström Said: “He has to be interrogated.

“They have been abused. They have gone to the police in the same way as unfortunately thousands of women do every year. I understand that this is in the interest of Julian Assange to say that this is a conspiracy and so on, but it is not.”

Assange has always insisted he had consensual sex with the women.

Assange is under intense scrutiny after his website began leaking more than 250,000 classified US diplomatic cables which were passed on to WikiLeaks.

European arrest warrant

If a subject is believed to be in the UK, a European arrest warrant will be submitted to SOCA for it to begin the extradition process. SOCA then issues a certificate validating the warrant, as long as it contains the information required under Section 2 of the Extradition Act 2003.

A copy of the warrant, the certificate and any intelligence concerning the person's location is forwarded to the appropriate organisation. This is usually a police force, which will then order that an arrest can be made.

Following arrest, the subject must be taken for a hearing before a designated extradition judge at City of Westminster Magistrates Court as soon as practicable. The subject will be given the option to consent to his/her extradition.

If consent is not given, an extradition hearing will be set. At the extradition hearing the presiding judge will hear evidence from the issuing judicial authority (represented by the Crown Prosecution Service)and from the requested person, after which the judge will decide if extradition should be ordered or the individual should be discharged.

If the ruling is to extradite, SOCA will liaise with the arresting police force and the issuing authority to arrange surrender.

The subject may appeal an extradition order within seven days, but if there is no appeal handover must take place within 10 days after the appeal period.

WikiLeaks goes Swiss

The WikiLeaks website has reportedly been under constant cyber attack since the cables began to be published on the site. Today the cyber attacks forced WikiLeaks’ host site EveryDNS.net to cut service for the website.

WikiLeaks has since been moved onto a Swiss web address.

Earlier the French government examined ways it could ban the website being hosted on servers in France, according to a letter written by the Industry Minister Eric Besson.

The letter, which was addressed to Industry Ministry officials, said WikiLeaks had been partly hosted by the French company OVH since Thursday, when US host Amazon stopped supporting the site.

Besson wrote in the letter: “I ask you to indicate to me as soon as possible what action can be taken to ensure that this Internet site is no longer hosted in France.

“This situation is not acceptable. France cannot host an Internet site that violates the secrecy of diplomatic relations and endangers people.”

Assange spoke about the Amazon host during his Q&A with the Guardian website. He said: “Since 2007 we have been deliberately placing some of our servers in jurisdictions that we suspected suffered a free speech deficit in order to separate rhetoric from reality. Amazon was one of these cases.”

Rape allegations

Swedish prosecutors want to arrest Julian Assange for questioning on suspicion of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion.

In August, two women in Sweden made complaints about Assange to police. Mr Assange strongly denies the allegations.

Swedish authorities issued a European arrest warrant last month, but the British police requested more information about the penalties Assange could face if convicted, according to a statement on the Swedish Prosecution Authority’s website.

The Metropolitan Police has refused to comment on whether officers from its extradition unit are preparing to arrest Assange. But today Channel 4 News learnt that SOCA is expecting another arrest warrant application. If the warrant is correctly filled out SOCA will be legally compliant to authorise the Metropolitan Police to arrest him.

Assange’s solicitor Mark Stephens claimed the case against Assange is a “surreal Swedish fairy tale” and said he had not been given copies of the new documents from prosecutors in Sweden.

He said: “We haven’t seen them, we’ve asked for them. We know that the Swedes were asked to do their homework again as they had filled the forms incompetently.

“At this moment we have not been contacted by either the Swedish authorities for law enforcement or the British authorities for law enforcement.

“We remain in exactly the same position as before. They know where he is.”

Assange Q&A

Earlier Assange took part in an online question and answer session with The Guardian’s website.

During the Q&A he praised US Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning, 23, without confirming he is the source of the WikiLeaks documents that have embarrassed Washington and its allies.

Manning has been charged by the US Army for mishandling and leaking classified data and putting American national security at risk. Manning has not been charged over the release of the cables, but is suspected of being the source of the latest leaks.

Assange wrote: “For the past four years one of our goals has been to lionise the source(s) who take the real risks in nearly every journalistic disclosure and without whose efforts, journalists would be nothing.

“If indeed it is the case, as alleged by the Pentagon, that the young soldier – Bradley Manning – is behind some of our recent disclosures, then he is without doubt an unparalleled hero.”

He claimed that the WikiLeaks organisation was “behind schedule” and had “much more work to do”.

He wrote: “Since April of this year our timetable has not been our own, rather it has been one that has centred around the moves of abusive elements of the United States government against us.”

Death threats

He claimed he and his colleagues had received death threats.

He wrote: “The threats against our lives are a matter of public record, however, we are taking the appropriate precautions to the degree that we are able when dealing with a superpower.”

Assange also revealed in the Guardian Q&A that the leaked American diplomatic cables, along with “significant material from the US and other countries”, had been copied to more than 100,000 people in encrypted form.

He wrote: “If something happens to us, the key parts will be released automatically.”

He concluded: “It is correct that … (those) seriously making these statements should be charged with incitement to commit murder.”