WikiLeaks’s Assange in Last U.K. Appeal to Avoid Rape Claims

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

Julian Assange, founder of the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, asked the U.K. Supreme Court to block his extradition to Sweden on rape claims, focusing on the technical argument his arrest warrant wasn’t issued by a judge.

The Swedish prosecutor who investigated the allegations and issued a European arrest warrant in 2010 isn’t impartial and can’t be a “judicial authority” under European Union law, Assange’s lawyer, Dinah Rose, told a panel of seven judges.

The prosecutor’s actions were “a breach of the rule that nobody may be a judge in their own cause, which is a fundamental principle of natural justice,” Rose said today in London.

The 40-year-old Australian is seeking to overturn a Court of Appeal ruling that he return to Sweden to face allegations by two WikiLeaks supporters who let him stay at their homes in 2010. Assange won the right to appeal to Britain’s top court after his lawyers argued British citizens would benefit from a final ruling on whether only judges can issue such warrants.

Clare Montgomery, the lawyer representing Sweden, said the warrant for Assange was made in its “proper form” and that authorities don’t need to be impartial to issue them. Under Assange’s definition, eight EU countries would be barred from using the extradition system, she said at the hearing.

The last-ditch appeal follows a lawsuit filed by Assange’s prior legal team for allegedly failing to pay his legal fees. The firm, London-based Finers Stephens Innocent LLP, said yesterday it sued Assange after protracted negotiations failed to produce a deal.

U.S. Condemnation

Assange, arrested in London in December 2010, is accused of failing to use a condom with one of the 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.

In the Court of Appeal’s ruling in November, Judges John Smith and Duncan Ouseley said it’s “difficult to see how a person could reasonably have believed in consent if the complaint alleges a state of sleep or half-sleep.”

The appeal doesn’t involve the substance of the claims in Sweden and focuses on a technicality in Europe’s practice of honoring arrest warrants from EU member countries. Assange, wearing a black suit, was backed by dozens of protesters outside the court.

‘Witch Hunt’

Ciaron O’Reilly, a supporter of Assange who protested outside, said the rape allegations were politicized by the Swedish government at the behest of the U.S.

“If it wasn’t Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, they wouldn’t be extraditing him,” O’Reilly said after the hearing. “It’s a witch hunt.”

Rose told the judges each of the EU’s 27 member countries made their own interpretations of the arrest-warrant law, with some allowing prosecutors to issue them and some requiring judges.

If the Supreme Court rejects the appeal, Assange’s only remedy will be to apply to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, which would have two weeks to respond, according to the U.K. Crown Prosecution Service, which represents Sweden in the case.

“One cannot rule out the Supreme Court disagreeing, but the odds are stacked against Mr. Assange,” said Dan Hyde, a consultant at Cubism Law.

Assange’s alleged crimes took place in August 2010 in Stockholm and Enkoeping, Sweden, where he was lecturing on the publication of the U.S. documents. Invited to stay with the women in their apartments as he toured the cities, Assange claims the sex was consensual.

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