Why Wikileaks’ Assange Might Have to Face Justice Soon – Unless Putin Rescues Him
Assange’s Future is up in the Air
Julian Assange’s stay at the Ecuadorian embassy in London could be about to come to an end. He was granted asylum by Ecuador after he argued that he couldn’t be extradited to Sweden to face sexual assault charges, because Sweden might extradite him to the US to face espionage charges for his role in leaking Chelsea Manning’s cache of documents. Assange argued this would amount to a political trial. Ecuador’s leftist government, which has had rocky relations with the US, agreed. Assange has been at the embassy since 2012. In the 2016 election, he gained extraordinary notoriety because he published information that Russian intelligence stole from the Hillary Clinton campaign and the DNC and passed on to Wikileaks to help Donald Trump.
According to The Guardian, a nail biter of a presidential race to be decided on Sunday in Ecuador could determine whether or not Assange can stay at the embassy,
Guillermo Lasso, the businessman and leading opposition candidate, has vowed that if he wins, the WikiLeaks founder’s time in the embassy will be up. Lasso has said he would “cordially ask Señor Assange to leave within 30 days of assuming a mandate”, because his presence in the Knightsbridge embassy was a burden on Ecuadorian taxpayers.
His government opponent, Lenin Moreno, has said Assange would remain welcome, albeit with conditions. “We will always be alert and ask Mr Assange to show respect in his declarations regarding our brotherly and friendly countries,” Moreno said.
The Guardian emphasized the dramatic differences between the two candidates, and the stark choice that voters face,
For Ecuador’s 15 million inhabitants, Sunday’s presidential election runoff will pose a fundamental question: whether to continue with a leftwing government that has reduced poverty but also brought environmental destruction and authoritarian censorship, or to take a chance on a pro-business banker who promises economic growth but is accused of siphoning money to offshore accounts.
And it’s not clear who is winning,
The most recent polling showed Moreno at least four percentage points ahead of his rival, though earlier polls had Lasso in the lead, and many analysts caution that the results are within the margin of error.
If Lasso wins and he, uh, lassos Assange, the Wikileaks mastermind’s options would be severely limited. It would be difficult for him to get anywhere, since there’s a British warrant for his arrest that would be executable the moment he steps out of the embassy. However, since he has injected himself into the world’s most high stakes geopolitical poker game, his asylum status could become a huge chip.
Russia could offer him asylum, or offer him safe haven if he managed to get to the Russian embassy in London, or even smuggle himself into Russia somehow. Vladimir Putin could decide that Assange is too high profile an intelligence asset to simply let him dangle in the wind. It would send a bad message to every other operative working for him. And he might do it just to thumb his nose at the West, as he did when he protected Edward Snowden.
With Trump in the White House, though, issues surrounding any effort to extradite him could become politically awkward all around. Under President Barack Obama, the US was seeking to extradite Assange after he faced charges in Sweden. If Sweden got a hold of Assange, and the US continued to seek his extradition, would Sweden trust Trump to faithfully pursue charges against Assange, or would they worry that Trump would actually protect him? Simply by stepping foot out of the embassy, Assange could singlehandedly deep the rift between the US and its European allies that Trump’s win in the electoral college has caused.
And if Assange ended up in Sweden, what would Trump do? Trump would face a hilariously impossible choice. Would he seek the extradition of the man who helped him become president to charge him for a crime? Would he seek his extradition and then have the Justice Department drop charges? Would he drop America’s push for extradition, since the FBI could potentially get more information on him, and Assange could be slapped with charges stemming from his role in the 2016 election, which would involve legal discovery? That could lead to information that Trump and a lot of his allies don’t want revealed. Virtually anything Trump did in this situation would look terrible, and would risk confirming the worst suspicions of many Americans and European allies. If Lasso wins, both Putin and Russia might just pressure him to continue allowing Assange to stay in the embassy.
Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images
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Marc Belisle is the Reverb Press World Affairs Editor. He is a writer, activist and teacher. He has a Master’s degree in International Conflict Analysis from the Brussels School of International Studies. READ MORE BY MARC.