Net closes on Assange: arrest by British police expected in days
Friday 03 December 2010
Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, is expected to be arrested in the coming days after Swedish prosecutors filed a new warrant with British authorities.
The Independent revealed yesterday that a procedural error with the European Arrest Warrant had delayed the arrest of the 39-year-old Australian, who is wanted in Sweden over sexual allegations but has been in England since October.
Police in Gothenburg claim they have now submitted a fresh warrant to the Serious Organised Crime Agency. Soca is expected to instruct Scotland Yard to arrest Mr Assange and have him appear before an extradition hearing – although as of last night the Metropolitan Police had yet to receive the warrant.
Police sources have previously said that they received a letter from Mr Assange's UK-based lawyer, Mark Stephens, containing information about how to contact Mr Assange should they need to.
Details of the new arrest warrant came as a last-ditch attempt to have the allegations against Mr Assange dropped failed. Sweden's highest court upheld the arrest order and refused to let him appeal against a lower court's ruling.
Last night, Mr Assange's family spoke of their fears for his safety after increasingly shrill statements from American commentators who have called for his assassination. His mother, Christine Assange, said "the forces that he's challenging are too big".
The arrest warrant filed with Soca states that he was wanted on suspicion of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion. But Soca requested a new warrant. A spokeswoman for the Swedish National Police Board told the BBC that the original one had been refused because it listed only the maximum penalty for the most serious crime alleged, rather than for all of the crimes.
When the arrest is made, Mr Assange will be taken before an extradition hearing at Westminster magistrates' court. If he refuses to be extradited, a judge will preside over an extradition hearing and will rule whether he should be sent to Sweden or discharged.
Last night, Mr Stephens said he would challenge any arrest in British courts. "The process in this case has been so utterly irregular that the chances of a valid arrest warrant being submitted to me are very small," he said. Mr Stephens has accused Swedish prosecutors of launching a witch-hunt against his client, who strongly denies the rape allegations and says he is being smeared because of the exposés published by his website.
He has maintained that Swedish prosecutors have yet to provide any evidence against Mr Assange and have ignored his requests to meet with them. He also expressed concerns at the way the UK and Swedish authorities were handling the case.
"I feel like I am sitting in the middle of a surreal Swedish fairytale," he said. "The trolls keep threatening to come on and keep making noises off stage. But at the moment, no appearance from them."
In an interview with an Australian newspaper, Mr Assange's mother defended her son and lambasted hawks in the US who have called for his death.
Ms Assange, who runs a puppet theatre in Noosa, a Queensland beach resort, defended her son's decision to publish thousands of classified US documents on the website. "He sees what he's doing as doing a good thing in the world – fighting baddies, if you like," she told Queensland's Courier-Mail.
Ms Assange – who does not even own a computer – described her son as a hero of the internet. But she added that she feared he had "gotten too smart for himself", saying: "I'm concerned it's gotten too big and the forces that he's challenging are too big." She did not want him "hunted down and jailed".
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