WikiLeaks founder arrested in Ecuador's London embassy

LONDON • WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's nearly seven-year stay in Ecuador's London embassy in an effort to avoid arrest ended yesterday when police entered the building and took him into custody ahead of possible extradition to the US.

Footage shot by Russian video news agency Ruptly showed a frantic-looking Assange - his worn face framed by a large white beard and a shock of grey hair - being huddled out of the building by plain-clothes security officers and pulled into a waiting police van.

The Metropolitan Police said Assange was arrested for failing to surrender to an earlier warrant issued by a British court. Officers could do so only after Ecuador allowed them to enter its London embassy.

Police later said the 47-year-old Australian citizen was "further arrested on behalf of the United States authorities".

"The whole House will welcome the news this morning that the Metropolitan Police have arrested Julian Assange, arrested for breach of bail after nearly seven years in the Ecuadorian Embassy," Prime Minister Theresa May told Parliament to cheers and cries of "hear, hear!" from lawmakers.

Assange appeared in a London court hours after his arrest. He was found guilty of skipping jail by the judge and faces a maximum jail term of 12 months upon sentencing at a later date in the Crown Court.

The US yesterday unsealed an indictment of Assange, accusing him of taking part in a computer-hacking conspiracy related to the disclosure of diplomatic cables extracted by former US Army analyst Chelsea Manning.

Assange's anti-secrecy organisation published the cables in 2010 and 2011. He also assisted Ms Manning in "hacking a password stored on United States Department of Defence computers", according to the indictment.

He faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison on the American charges, the US Justice Department said in a statement.

A battle for his extradition to the US could last months or years. His first extradition hearing is scheduled for May 2.

If Assange is extradited, he could provide new insights into Wiki-Leaks' role in a different matter - what US Special Counsel Robert Mueller has described as a con-spiracy by Russians to steal Demo-crats' e-mails.

WikiLeaks accused Ecuador of breaching international law by withdrawing Assange's asylum. "Ecuador has illegally terminated Assange's political asylum in violation of international law," the whistle-blowing website said on Twitter.

Assange was offered refuge in 2012 by Ecuador's then President Rafael Correa, but his relationship with Ecuador has soured under Mr Correa's successor Lenin Moreno.

Mr Moreno tweeted that Ecuador acted within its sovereign rights when it withdrew Assange's asylum "for repeatedly violating international conventions and the protocol of co-habitation".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, DPA, BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2019, with the headline 'WikiLeaks founder arrested in Ecuador's London embassy'. Print Edition | Subscribe