Washington/London: The US on Thursday charged WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange with one count of conspiracy to hack a computer to disclose classified information that “could be used to injure the US”, which is linked to the 2010 release of reams of secret American documents, just hours after British authorities arrested him in London.
He has also been found guilty of skipping bail by a UK court. Judge Michael Snow at Westminster Magistrates Court found Assange guilty of failing to surrender, calling him a “narcissist” and suggesting his representations in court have been “shameful”, the Telegraph reported.
Assange, 47, was taken into custody by the Metropolitan Police after Ecuador rescinded his asylum at its embassy in London, ending a nearly seven-year standoff. The Police in a statement said, Assange was “arrested in response to an extradition warrant by the US” and would “appear in custody at the Westminster Magistrates’ Court as soon as possible”.
“We can confirm that Assange was arrested in relation to a provisional extradition request from the US. He is accused in the US of computer-related offences,” the UK Home Office said.
The British police initially sought Assange’s custody for jumping bail after Sweden requested his extradition in a separate case stemming from sexual assault allegations.
The judge sent Assange for sentencing at the Crown Court and if found guilty he would face a jail sentence of up to 12 months. He will next appear in the court on the May 2 by video link on the extradition matter.
Regarding the bail offence, he will appear at Southwark Crown Court on a date to be announced.
A US federal court unsealed an indictment charging Assange with a single count of conspiracy to disclose classified information. The US Justice Department said Assange had been charged with computer crimes. If convicted he will face up to five years in prison, it added.
The statement revealed criminal charges against Assange linked to his role in the release of sensitive diplomatic cables in 2010. He was accused of helping Chelsea Manning, the ex-intelligence analyst in the US Army, to break a password to a classified US government computer.
Dramatic footage posted online showed a bearded Assange shouting as he was pulled by seven British police officers out of the Embassy and shoved into a police vehicle.
Assange’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson said her client was “arrested not just for breach of bail conditions but also in relation to a US extradition request”.
Ecuador, which took Assange in when he was facing a Swedish rape investigation in 2012, said it was rescinding asylum because of his “discourteous and aggressive behaviour” and for violating the terms of his asylum.
Sweden dropped its sex crimes inquiry in May 2017, which Assange had always denied. But he still faces up to a year in prison in Britain for jumping bail in 2012.
He fears extradition to the US, which has been investigating him for espionage, the publication of sensitive government documents and coordination with Russia.
The Metropolitan Police said they were “invited into the embassy by the ambassador, following the Ecuadorian government’s withdrawal of asylum.”
Reacting to the news, the Russian government accused Britain of “strangling freedom” by taking Assange into custody.
Accusing Assange of repeated violations to international conventions, Ecuador President Lenin Moreno tweeted, “The most recent incident occurred in January 2019, when WikiLeaks leaked Vatican documents.”
His accusations against Assange also included blocking security cameras at the embassy, accessing security files and confronting guards. He also “threatened Ecuador” two days ago through Wikileaks, according to Moreno.
WikiLeaks tweeted that Ecuador had acted illegally in terminating Assange’s political asylum “in violation of international law”. “Assange’s critics may cheer, but this is a dark moment for press freedom,” said Whistleblower and fugitive Edward Snowden.
UK Foreign Minister Alan Duncan said the arrest followed “extensive dialogue between our two countries”. Sweden’s Chief Prosecutor Ingrid Isgren said, “We do not know why he is under arrest. We are following the developments.”
However, the Swedish woman who had made the allegations against Assange welcomed his arrest.