WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange arrested by police in London
London (NBC): Julian Assange, the fugitive founder of WikiLeaks and publisher of state secrets that embarrassed governments across the world, was arrested in London on Thursday almost seven years after he sought refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy.
Assange was wanted by British police for skipping bail in August 2012, while he was under investigation for sexual assault and rape in Sweden.
London’s Metropolitan Police said the Ecuadorian government had withdrawn asylum for Assange, adding that officers has been “invited into the embassy by the ambassador.”
The Australian national has maintained that if forced to surrender to authorities he would eventually be extradited to the U.S. to face charges.
WikiLeaks has repeatedly claimed that the Justice Department is building a criminal case centered on the leaking of Democratic emails hacked by the Russians in the 2016 election.
President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, told a congressional hearing in February that former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone was in contact with Assange before WikiLeaks released leaked emails from the Democratic National Committee.
Assange, 47, has always maintained that the source of the leaks was not Russia, contrary to the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies.
Special counsel Robert Mueller recently concluded his probe into Russian electoral interference and the Trump campaign.
Assange founded WikiLeaks in 2006 and made news four years later with the publication of leaked information provided by Chelsea Manning, a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst and self-described whistleblower.
These included a video of a U.S. military helicopter fatally shooting people in Iraq, and thousands of classified military logs revealing sensitive information about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, thought to be the biggest leaks in U.S. military history.
Manning last month refused to testify before a federal grand jury looking into the release of documents to WikiLeaks.
In November 2010, the Swedish government issued an international arrest warrant for Assange in connection with allegations of sexual assault and rape from two women. Assange, who has denied the allegations, surrendered to British police the following month and was released on bail — whereupon he fled, breaking the terms of his bond agreement.
Assange’s lawyers have often warned that he would be handed over to U.S. prosecutors because of WikiLeaks’ publication of classified documents. Rafael Correa, then the president of Ecuador, granted him asylum in 2012.
Sweden later dropped its investigation and Assange is no longer wanted there — but he remained in the embassy because London’s Metropolitan Police said he would be arrested for violating his bail as soon as he stepped outside. The local force has been running an expensive operation to post officers outside the building in case that happens.
Assange became an Ecuadorian citizen last year, even though his relations with his hosts had soured years ago.
In 2016, the Ecuadorian government cut off his access to the internet in the embassy after WikiLeaks published a trove of emails from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. The government said it was trying to make sure he couldn’t interfere in the affairs of other countries.
In January, WikiLeaks sent a 5,000-word email to journalists listing 140 things they should not say about Assange, from asserting that he has been an agent of any intelligence service to that he has ever bleached his hair.