WikiLeaks’ Assange hands himself to UK Police

Wednesday, 8 December 2010 00:17 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

 WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange handed himself in to British police on Tuesday after Sweden issued a warrant for his arrest over allegations of sex crimes.

However a Swedish prosecutor said the sexual misconduct case against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is a personal matter and not connected with his work releasing secret U.S. diplomatic cables.

She spoke after Assange was arrested and remanded in custody by a British court under a European Arrest Warrant which was issued by Sweden at her request. She wants to question Assange over the allegations, which Assange denies.

“I want to make it clear that I have not been put under any kind of pressure, political or otherwise,” Marianne Ny, a director of prosecution, said in a statement.

“Swedish prosecutors are completly independent in their decision-making,” she added.

Newspaper Aftonbladet quoted her as saying at a news conference in the western city of Gothenburg that she had seen nothing which indicates a plot.

“The criminal investigation has nothing to do with WikiLeaks. It concerns him personally,” she added.

Responding to a question whether the United States was also seeking Assange, Swedish radio quoted her as saying: “There are no foreign authorities which have asked to be informed. Only journalists and private people have sought information.”

“I have not issued a European arrest warrant in order for him to be handed over to the United States,” she was quoted by Swedish news agency TT as saying.

Earlier on arriving at the court, lawyer Mark Stephens said Assange was fine and the meeting with police had been cordial.

“They are satisfied he is the real Julian Assange and we are ready to go into court.”

Swedish prosecutors want to question the 39-year-old Australian about allegations including rape. He denies the allegations.

At a court hearing in London, Senior District Judge Howard Riddle said: “There are substantial grounds to believe he could abscond if granted bail.”

He said the allegations were serious, and that Assange had comparatively weak community ties in Britain.

WikiLeaks, which has provoked fury in Washington with its publications, vowed it would continue making public details of the 250,000 secret U.S. documents it had obtained.

“Today’s actions against our editor-in-chief Julian Assange won’t affect our operations: we will release more cables tonight as normal,” WikiLeaks said, according to its Twitter page.

Assange has spent much of his time in Sweden and this year was accused of sexual misconduct by two female Swedish WikiLeaks volunteers.

This led Swedish prosecutors to open, then drop, then re-open an investigation into the allegations. The crime he is suspected of is the least severe of three categories of rape, carrying a maximum of four years in jail.

London police said Assange was arrested by officers from its extradition unit at about 9.30 a.m. (0930 GMT) after he appeared by appointment at a police station. His whereabouts had been previously undisclosed.

Assange’s Swedish lawyer has said his client would fight any extradition and believed foreign powers were influencing Sweden.

The U.S. government and others say the publication of the cables was irresponsible and could put their security at risk.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said on Monday President Barack Obama’s administration was considering ways to seek prosecutions over their release.

Swiss postfinance, the banking arm of state-owned Swiss Post, has closed an account used for WikiLeaks donations and online payment service PayPal has suspended WikiLeaks’ account.

The WikiLeaks website was also shut down. WikiLeaks said there were now 750 global mirror sites meaning the data so far released remained readily available.

The group said it would be operating as normal using people in London and other locations, and argued the pressure it faced was becoming a fundamental question of civil liberties.

“Any development with regards to Julian Assange will not change the plans we have with regards to the releases today and in the coming days,” said spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson.

“The attacks that we are under from companies who are bowing to pressure from the U.S. government are outrageous and I see it a clear confrontation against the freedom of speech and press freedom.”