WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can’t be turned over to U.S. authorities if he is extradited to Sweden to face questioning over sexual-misconduct allegations, a former Swedish prosecutor told a U.K. judge.
If Assange is placed in Swedish custody, the 39-year-old Australian can’t subsequently be handed over to the U.S., Sven-Erik Alhem, an ex-government lawyer who now teaches law, testified today, the second day of Assange’s extradition hearing in London. It is scheduled to resume Feb. 11.
It is “my understanding” that Swedish law prevents people brought into the country on such warrants from being sent to another country, Alhem said today when cross-examined by Clare Montgomery, the U.K. prosecutor arguing on behalf of Sweden.
Defense lawyers have said the push to bring Assange to Sweden, where two women have accused him of rape and sexual coercion, may be politically motivated by the U.S., which is investigating WikiLeaks’ posting of thousands of classified U.S. military and diplomatic documents.
“We see the unlimited budget of Sweden and the U.K. being spent on this matter,” Assange said following the hearing, “and we see my rather limited budget being spent in response.”
If extradited, the lawyers claim Assange could eventually be sent to the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and face a death sentence for espionage. Prosecutors have said the case isn’t related to WikiLeaks, an anti-secrecy website that posts leaked corporate and government documents online.
Any attempt to extradite Assange from Sweden to the U.S. would cause “a media storm,” Alhem said.
Assange’s lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson, argued Assange shouldn’t have been arrested because his client repeatedly offered to answer questions while he was in Sweden last year.
Bjorn Hurtig, Assange’s Swedish lawyer, said in testimony today the Swedish prosecutor who revived the case, Marianne Ny, isn’t in a position to charge Assange with rape because she doesn’t have his side of the story.
“When Marianne Ny decided that there was reason to suspect rape, in my opinion, she should have made sure that Assange was given the opportunity to give his version,” Hurtig said.
When he was shown the evidence against Assange, Hurtig said he saw about 100 texts that were “not good for the claimants,” including ones where they spoke of gaining “economic advantage” from the case, taking money and having contact with the press.
Ny suggested an interview during the week of Oct. 11, and then later sent Assange a text message saying it “would not be appropriate” to wait until then, Hurtig said. She had already turned down an earlier interview with him because a policeman who was going to take part was ill, he said.
Montgomery told the judge yesterday that Ny, who issued the arrest warrant for Assange, was within her authority. Assange’s lawyers have argued the warrant that prompted him to turn himself in to London police in December was issued improperly.
Another of Assange’s lawyers, Mark Stephens, said after the hearing that Ny should come to London herself and testify.
Robertson said at yesterday’s hearing his client would be unfairly tried in secret in Sweden if he were extradited, because rape trials in the Scandinavian country are frequently closed to the public and media.