Julian Assange, founder of the anti- secrecy website WikiLeaks, will probably lose his bid for asylum from Ecuador and end up in an English jail for breaking the terms of his bail during an extradition fight, U.K. lawyers say.
Ecuador will seek to protect its relationship with Britain and the European Union by rejecting Assange’s bid, said Peter Watson, a lawyer with Allen & Overy LLP in London who isn’t involved in the case. Assange will then be arrested, lose the bail money put up by his supporters and be jailed until he’s extradited to Sweden on rape claims, Watson said.
“Seeking political asylum following an open, public trial and an appeal to the highest court in the land is essentially saying the U.K. court system stinks,” Watson said. “That would be a very difficult position for Ecuador, because of the ramifications on its international relationships, not just with the U.K., but with Europe and the U.S.”
The claims against Assange, an Australian, became public around the same time he posted classified U.S. military and diplomatic cables on the WikiLeaks website, creating controversy for U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration. Assange denies the rape allegations and argues Sweden fabricated the arrest warrant to assist the U.S. in punishing him for the breach.
“My guess is they won’t follow through with it,” Dan Hyde, a lawyer at Cubism Law in London, said in an interview about Ecuador’s forthcoming decision. “But even if they did, I don’t see how, pragmatically, he is going leave this country -- he doesn’t have diplomatic immunity.”
Assange breached his bail by staying overnight at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he sought asylum yesterday, the Metropolitan Police Service said in an e-mailed statement. Assange has been required for the past 18 months to remain at his bail address from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.
“How long can he be holed up in there?” Hyde said. “He can’t stay there forever.”
Nine friends and supporters of Assange, including journalist and documentary filmmaker John Pilger and celebrity Jemima Khan, may lose money they put up as part of the more than 200,000 pounds ($314,800) in guaranties posted as part of his bail conditions in December 2010.
Gareth Peirce, Assange’s lawyer in London, didn’t immediately return a call to her office today on the asylum bid.
Ecuador is studying the request and is in contact with the U.K. government, the Andean country’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino told reporters in a brief statement in Quito.
If Ecuador refuses his request, Assange will likely be arrested and go before a judge, Watson said. Assange would face penalties ranging from a “slap on the wrist” to being jailed pending extradition, he said.
Assange, first arrested in London in December 2010, lost his appeal to avoid extradition after the U.K. Supreme Court ruled May 30 that the arrest warrant had been issued properly by Sweden. Assange had argued the warrant was invalid because it was issued by a prosecutor instead of a judge.
Assange was considering an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights before he sought asylum. His latest move suggests he received legal advice that a challenge at the court in Strasbourg, France, would be “hopeless,” Watson said.
“It’s a rather curious thing to do, because he would have had protection from extradition while the appeal with the human- rights court was underway,” Watson said.
Assange is accused of failing to use a condom with one of the women and having sex with the other while she was asleep. The women, both supporters of WikiLeaks, let Assange stay at their homes during a speaking tour in Sweden in 2010. The U.K. Court of Appeal ruled in November that he should return to Sweden to face the allegations. He hasn’t been charged with a crime.
The asylum bid is a “delay” tactic that won’t prevent Assange from being sent to Sweden “sooner or later,” Claes Borgstrom, who represents the alleged victims, said in an e- mailed statement.
“I am not surprised that Assange once again is trying to stop the extradition, but I could never have guessed his method this time,” Borgstrom said.
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