Assange fears extradition to US

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said today he had no hope of a fair trial if he is extradited to the US.

The 39-year-old Australian believes the US is preparing to indict him on espionage charges because of the leak of thousands of diplomatic cables.

Currently wanted in Sweden for alleged sex offences, which he denies, he was released from prison on bail yesterday and placed under house arrest.

Asked today if he had confidence in receiving a fair and unbiased trial if extradited to the US, he answered: "Absolutely not."

A spokeswoman for the US Department of Justice would say only that there was an "investigation into the WikiLeaks matter".

The whistleblower left Wandsworth Prison yesterday when a High Court judge upheld a decision to grant him bail before a full extradition hearing next year.

British lawyers acting on behalf of the Swedish authorities appealed against the original decision, made by a judge at City of Westminster Magistrates' Court on Tuesday.

Strict conditions attached to his bail include residing at Ellingham Hall, a country retreat on the Norfolk-Suffolk border owned by Vaughan Smith, the founder of London's Frontline journalism club.

Assange appeared confident and relaxed as he conducted a series of interviews today.

The former hacker said he was expecting further smears against him as soon as tonight, saying: "There's an allegation that the Swedish prosecution has leaked out selective parts of their file illegally."

But he said he was now looking forward to spending some time on the sprawling rural estate after his jail release.

"I'm going to go out into the country and do some fishing. It makes a very significant change compared to being in a basement in solitary confinement."

Meanwhile, however, he fears there could be an "illegal investigation" being carried out into him.

He said he had still not been given any evidence relating to allegations he sexually assaulted two women in Stockholm in August.

Certain institutions were "engaged in what appears to be, certainly a secret investigation, but appears also to be an illegal investigation," he said.

"We can see that by how certain people who are allegedly affiliated with us were contained at the US border and had their computers seized, and so on."

He added: "I would say that there is a very aggressive investigation, that a lot of face has been lost by some people, and some people have careers to make by pursuing famous cases. But that is actually something that needs monitoring."

He said his organisation had been attacked primarily not by governments but by banks in Dubai, Switzerland, the US and the UK and added that WikiLeaks was continuing to release information about the banks.

Assange added: "Over 85% of our economic resources are spent dealing with attacks, dealing with technical attacks, dealing with political attacks, dealing with legal attacks, not doing our journalism. And that, if you like, is a tax upon quality investigative journalism - an 85% tax rate on that kind of economic activity.

"Whereas people who are producing celebrity pieces for Vanity Fair have much lower tax rates."

Assange said he had support from a "large Washington law firm" and from "colleagues in California" but called for more help.

He said: "We need more, and not just at a reactive level."

Mr Smith said Assange had previously visited his house and was a good friend. He said he was convinced the Australian was not guilty of the charges against him and that he was allowing him to stay at his home as "an act of principle".

He said: "I knew Julian well and obviously it's a very contentious matter, and I love journalism.

"I felt it was important to make a stand and I was very concerned that Julian received justice, and I wanted to express my support."

He said he had not increased security at the property in light of his new guest.

Mr Smith added: "One's obviously conscious that there have been some very shrill statements urging people to kill Julian Assange which I think is very irresponsible.

"But we can't live in fear. I'm not prepared not to offer bail simply on some ungrounded fear for security.

"If the police fear there is a real threat of that I'm sure they will do what is necessary to protect me."

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