8 Feb 2011

Assange cannot be extradited to US ‘without a media storm’

A former Swedish prosecutor, Sven-Erik Alhem, told a court that it would be “impossible” to extradite Julian Assange to the US from Sweden without a “media storm.”

Julian Assange entering court (Getty)

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has appeared in court for a second day at a hearing to decide whether he should be extradited to Sweden to face charges of sexual assault and rape.

Assange’s supporters say they fear he will be extradited to the US afterwards, where he could be jailed or given the death penalty for “spying”.

Sven-Erik Alhem, a 68-year-old expert in Swedish legal affairs, said that what he thought was essential was that in this case Assange could be not be extradited to another country if he was first extradited to Sweden.

He said:”My understanding is there is not a risk of being extradited to the US but there are exceptions, which I’m not aware of and can’t comment on.

“I believe it’s impossible Mr Assange could be extradited to the US without a complete media storm.”

Mr Alhem also told the court that he thought it was “quite peculiar” that Swedish investigators did not speak to Assange before issuing an arrest warrant.

However Clare Montgomery QC, who is representing the Swedish authorities, outlined how they spent a week trying to arrange an interview with Assange through his lawyer, Bjorn Hurtig.

The court was told that Mr Hurtig could not get in touch with Assange and an “unsuccessful search” was carried out to find his whereabouts.

Ms Montgomery said that, on 27 September, Mr Hurtig was told a domestic arrest warrant had been issued for Assange, and that coincided with Assange’s departure from Sweden.

She said, “It was on that day – we do not know if it was before or after the warning – that Julian Assange left Sweden permanently.”

The witness was also asked what he would have done if he had been in Assange’s situation, Alhem replied that he would have gone to Sweden.

“If I was in his shoes then I would have gone to Sweden to give my version of events,” he said.

“It would be very important to me to clear my name given I was innocent.”

However later, Mr Alhem said Assange should have been arrested when the rape allegation against him first surfaced.

He said Swedish investigators should have tried other options, including interviewing Assange by a video link, before issuing a European Arrest Warrant.

The court also heard from Mr Hurtig, Julian Assange’s lawyer, who attacked ideas that Assange fled Sweden.

Read more: Openness and tweeting Assange

Hurtig said his client had been authorised to leave the country by the authorities, and that he was even told by Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny that there was no police interrogation planned.

During a phone conversation on 15 September she said there were “no forced measures preventing Julian from leaving the country”, he said. “In other words, he was allowed to leave the country.”

Mr Hurtig also said that when he asked if Assange was going to be interrogated, there was no staff free to do so as the one police officer they wanted to question him was sick.

“After our phone conversation on the 15th I phoned Julian and told him he was free to leave Sweden to continue his work,” Mr Hurtig said.

Mr Hurtig said that he first told Assange he was wanted for questioning on 29 September, two days after prosecutors said he was a wanted man and he left Sweden.

Assange faces three charges of sexually assaulting one woman and one charge of raping another during a week-long visit to Stockholm last August. A court will decide whether to extradite him at the end of the hearing.

However court officials said District Judge Howard Riddle, who transferred the case from Westminster because of the media interest, is likely to reserve his decision to another date.

The court resumes on Friday for a third day.