- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2017

British authorities have admitted to deleting sensitive emails between one of its attorneys and Swedish counterparts investigating Julian Assange, raising questions about the international impasse surrounding the fugitive WikiLeaks publisher.

The United Kingdom’s Crown Prosecution Service acknowledged destroying emails and other records pertaining to the former CPS extradition lawyer, Italy’s la Repubblica newspaper first reported Friday, admitting: “all the data associated with Paul Close’s account was deleted when he retired and cannot be recovered.”

Mr. Close directly communicated with Swedish counterparts investigating Mr. Assange for allegations unrelated to WikiLeaks, and his emails may have contained critical information about the connected multinational custody fight, la Repubblica reported.

“It is incredible to me these records about an ongoing and high-profile case have been destroyed. I think they have something to hide,” Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi, the author of the report, told The Guardian.

A spokesperson for the CPS told The Guardian that it wasn’t sure what data was destroyed following the lawyer’s retirement in 2014, saying: “We have no way of knowing the content of email accounts once they have been deleted.”

The emails were deleted in accordance with standard procedure, the spokesperson added.

“The missing information raises concerns about the Crown Prosecution Service’s data retention policy and what internal mechanisms are in place to review their conduct of this case in light of the fact the U.K. has been found to have breached its international obligations,” added Jennifer Robinson, a British attorney who previously worked with Mr. Assange and intends to represent Ms. Maurizi when they raise their concerns about the documents before a tribunal in London next week.

Mr. Assange, 46, was the subject of a rape investigation launched by Swedish prosecutors in 2010. He took refuge inside Ecuador’s London embassy in 2012 to elude apprehension, alleging he’d be sent to the U.S. to face charges related to WikiLeaks if extradited to Sweden for questioning.

Swedish prosecutors ultimately interviewed Mr. Assange through an intermediary last year in London and called off their probe this past May, but Mr. Assange has remained inside the embassy because he fears British police will arrest him regardless.

Evidence of British authorities deleting their attorney’s emails was revealed through a document request being pursued by Ms. Maurizi as part of her reporting on WikiLeaks. She and her attorney intend to argue for the release of additional documents at a hearing in London on Monday.

The reporter’s investigation previously uncovered evidence that Mr. Close repeatedly advised Swedish prosecutors against interviewing Mr. Assange in London prior to last year’s interrogation, she added.

“My earlier advice remains, that in my view it would not be prudent for the Swedish authorities to try to interview the defendant in the U.K.,” Mr. Close wrote in a January 2011 email to the Swedish prosecutors leading the Assange case.

“Serious questions must be asked about the role of the CPS. Had the Swedes interviewed Assange back in 2010 one wonders whether this case would have continued for such a long time,” Ms. Robinson, the reporter’s attorney, told The Guardian. “We had been offering the Swedish prosecutors Assange’s testimony since October 2010. We didn’t know at the time that the CPS was advising them not to take up the offer.”

A United Nations human-rights panel found last year that Mr. Assange’s stint inside the Ecuadorian Embassy amounts to arbitrary detention.

The U.S. Department of Justice began investigating WikiLeaks in 2010 after the website began published classified U.S. State and Defense Department documents. While President Trump applauded WikiLeaks on the campaign trail for releasing sensitive emails last year damaging to his opponent, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, his attorney general called for arresting Mr. Assange earlier this year.

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