WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said he is planning to leave the Ecuadorian embassy “soon,” potentially bringing to an end over two years of self-imposed asylum in London.
Speaking at a press conference inside the Mayfair embassy today, Assange, 43, who risks arrest as soon as he steps outside the building, said the ordeal has caused him heart and lung problems and 7 million pounds ($11.7 million) in legal costs.
The embassy “has no outside areas, no sunlight,” Assange told reporters in the briefing broadcast live on the Internet. “It’s an environment in which any healthy person would find themselves soon enough with certain difficulties they would have to manage.”
Assange sought refuge with Ecuador in June 2012, after exhausting options in U.K. courts to avoid extradition to face questioning on allegations of rape and sexual molestation during a 2010 visit to Sweden. The Australian national, who says he’s innocent and hasn’t been charged with a crime, has refused to return to the Nordic country, citing risks that he will be extradited to the U.S. over the release of secret documents by WikiLeaks.
Assange is accused in Sweden of failing to use a condom with one woman and having sex with another while she was asleep. The women, both supporters of WikiLeaks, let him stay at their homes during a speaking tour in 2010.
“He is willing to leave the embassy at any moment,” Kristinn Hrafnsson, a WikiLeaks spokesman, told reporters outside the embassy.
Assange is waiting for U.K. authorities to “give him safe passage” out of the embassy within the next “days, weeks,” he said. “It’s about time this situation comes to an end.” Ecuador is a probable destination, he said.
Recent changes to U.K. extradition law might help him stay in the country, Assange said today. Ecuador’s foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, speaking alongside Assange, said his government is seeking a meeting with U.K. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond to discuss Assange’s status.
WikiLeaks, which started in 2006, leaks classified documents under a philosophy of increasing government transparency. The group drew condemnation from the U.S. for posting thousands of documents on its website, including U.S. communications about foreign governments and military efforts during wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. One U.S. soldier, Private Bradley Manning, is serving as long as 35 years in prison for providing the group with classified information.