WikiLeaks’s Assange Sued on Eve of U.K. Extradition Appeal

WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaks to the media outside the High Court in London on Dec. 5, 2011 where he attended a ruling in his long-running fight against extradition to Sweden. Photographer: Geoff Caddick/AFP/Getty Images

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who will ask the U.K. Supreme Court tomorrow to block his extradition to Sweden in a rape case, was sued by the British law firm he hired after his 2010 arrest.

Finers Stephens Innocent LLP, which specializes in commercial litigation, sued the 40-year-old Australian yesterday in London over legal fees, according to court records. Assange replaced the firm last year after a U.K. judge rejected his defense and upheld the Swedish arrest warrant.

“It’s always regrettable when we find ourselves in a dispute with a former client about fees,” Tim Bignell, a lawyer at the firm, said in a phone interview today. “We tried to resolve this amicably with Mr. Assange and we still hope to be able to.” He didn’t say how much the firm is owed.

Assange, now represented by human-rights lawyer Gareth Peirce, denies the rape claims by two supporters of the anti-secrecy website who let him stay at their homes in 2010. Assange argues Sweden’s arrest warrant is invalid because the prosecutor who issued it isn’t a “judicial authority,” as required under European Union law.

Peirce didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment about the lawsuit over fees.

Finers Stephens Innocent’s tactics in the first court hearing went further than questioning inconsistencies in European law. It criticized Swedish justice in rape cases and labeled the prosecutor behind the case as a “radical feminist.”

‘Substantial Fees’

The law firm had extensive negotiations with Assange over the unpaid fees, including “substantial fees” owed to lawyers and repayment of money the firm gave third parties on his behalf, Bignell said. Assange also moved to a new address in the U.K. without telling the firm, he said.

Assange’s former lawyer, Mark Stephens, went on to represent singer Dannii Minogue and other celebrity victims of phone hacking by News Corp.’s now-defunct News of the World tabloid in Britain. Stephens regularly represents media organizations including Bloomberg News.

Peirce gained notoriety for representing the family of a man wrongfully killed by London police in a terrorism sting and three Britons arrested in Afghanistan and held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Assange, who hasn’t been charged with a crime, is accused of failing to use a condom with one of the Swedish women and having sex with the other while she was asleep. The claims became public around the same time Assange was condemned by U.S. officials for posting classified military and diplomatic cables on the WikiLeaks website and he claimed the case was politically motivated.

The Finers Stephens case is: Finers Stephens Innocent v. Julian Assange, HQ12X00359, High Court of Justice Queens Bench Division.

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