LONDON — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was back in court Tuesday, fighting extradition to Sweden on the grounds that allegations of sexual misconduct laid against him there don't amount to a crime.
Mr. Assange's repeated disclosures of classified U.S. documents have infuriated the Pentagon and energized critics of U.S. foreign policy, but allegations that the 40-year-old Australian sexually assaulted two women during a trip to Scandinavia last year have tarnished his reputation and cast a shadow over his future.
At London's High Court, where Mr. Assange is appealing a previous decision to send him to Sweden for questioning, his attorney, Ben Emmerson, conceded that the women involved may have found sex with his client "disrespectful, discourteous or disturbing."
But Mr. Emmerson insisted it had been entirely consensual and wouldn't be illegal in the context of English law.
"The conduct that is complained of would not constitute a crime in this jurisdiction," he said.
The allegations against Mr. Assange date back to August, when the former hacker had just released U.S. intelligence material related to the war in Afghanistan. He became involved with two women — one of whom later accused him of coercion and molestation, another of whom alleged that he had had sex with her as she slept.
Swedish prosecutors haven't charged Mr. Assange, but they want him back in Scandinavia to face questions about the case.
Mr. Assange has resisted any such move, arguing that he's perfectly capable of answering questions from Britain and that the case is being manipulated to political ends — possibly with an eye toward sending him to the United States, where a federal grand jury is investigating WikiLeaks' activities.
On Tuesday, his lawyer went into graphic detail of the incidents described in the warrant seeking Mr. Assange's removal. Mr. Emmerson argued that Mr. Assange had agreed to wear a condom during intercourse — contrary to what one of his accusers alleges.
Another incident — in which Mr. Assange took off some of his clothes and rubbed himself against his alleged victim — Mr. Emmerson dismissed as "awkward" rather than criminal — noting that she had been sharing a bed with him at the time, and after the alleged incident merely moved to a mattress .
"She may not have enjoyed what was going on," Mr. Emmerson said, but there was nothing unlawful about it.
As for the allegation that Mr. Assange had had sex with a woman who was asleep, Mr. Emmerson said that she had consented to the act after the fact and even made jokes about it.