- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Ecuador on Wednesday denied receiving any requests to extradite Julian Assange, addressing concerns keeping the self-exiled WikiLeaks publisher from leaving the nation’s London embassy.

“We have told Mr Assange: ‘Up to now, as far as we know, there is no extradition request from any country,’” Foreign Minister José Valencia told Ecuador’s state-owned Radio Public.

“Ecuador continues to try to build political ground for its dirty deal with U.S. to hand over Julian Assange,” replied a Twitter account operated by the WikiLeaks founder’s legal team.

A 47-year-old Australian native, Mr. Assange entered the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2012 while under investigation by the Justice Department for releasing classified material through his WikiLeaks website. He was subsequently accused of breaching bail conditions imposed by British authorities in connection with an unrelated rape case, making him the subject of an outstanding arrest warrant effectively preventing him from voluntarily exiting.

Mr. Assange has not been publicly charged by U.S. prosecutors, but he has repeatedly raised concerns since entering the embassy about being indicted while in British custody and sent abroad to stand trial for crimes that could carry the death penalty upon conviction.

Lawyers for the WikiLeaks publisher said as recently as last month that he would surrender to U.K. authorities if he is guaranteed protection against a possible U.S. extradition request, and Ecuador’s attorney general recently revealed that both British Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt and his predecessor, Boris Johnson, have promised Mr. Assange that he will not be sent to any country where he risks being executed after trial.

“The Government of the United Kingdom said that Assange will not be delivered to the U.S.,” Ecuadorian Attorney General Íñigo Salvador said last week. “But the opposite could happen and that is the main fear. Ecuador seeks a consensual solution.”

“It hasn’t said anything of the sort,” replied a Twitter account operated by Mr. Assange’s legal team. “In fact, U.K. has said exactly the opposite. That it will execute an extradition request and that it refuses to confirm or deny whether it has one until Assange is arrested. These lies are to try and shift blame from Ecuador to U.K. on extradition.’”

The Justice Department said it “does not publicly comment on correspondence with foreign governments on extradition matters, including the very existence of such a request,” a department spokesperson told The Times.

Representatives for the U.K. Home Office, the agency responsible for handling extradition requests received by the British government, did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

Mr. Assange entered the Ecuadorian Embassy while under house arrest in connection with a rape probe that Swedish prosecutors concluded in 2017 without filing charges. He was granted asylum weeks after entering, and last year he received Ecuadorian citizenship in an effort to further shield him from foreign legal proceedings.

WikiLeaks published classified documents from the State and Defense departments prior to Mr. Assange seeking refuge, and more recently he oversaw the website’s release of material including internal Democratic Party documents published during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and CIA hacking tools leaked last year.

Former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning received a 35-year prison sentence for leaking classified diplomatic and military documents to WikiLeaks and 2010, and special counsel Robert Mueller’s office has filed criminal charges against Russian military officials accused of hacking the Democratic material ultimately leaked by Mr. Assange’s website during the 2016 race.

More recently, former CIA employee Joshua Schulte was charged in June in connection with allegedly leaking the hacking tools published by WikiLeaks in 2017. He was subsequently charged in a superseding indictment filed last week accusing him of leaking additional material while in custody awaiting trial for espionage. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

“In British justice, he could even be sentenced to three to six months’ imprisonment,” Carlos Poveda, an attorney for Mr. Assange, said last month. “But what is being requested from the legal team is that there is a necessary assurance that after that sentence he will not be extradited to the United States.”

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