- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2019

Julian Assange has been issued a new passport by his native Australia, regional media reported Thursday, clearing one of several hurdles keeping the wanted WikiLeaks publisher from exiting the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and returning home.

Andrew Todd, an assistant secretary for the Consular and Crisis Management Division of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, confirmed that the government approved a passport application filed by Mr. Assange in 2018, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

“Mr. Assange does have an Australian passport,” Mr. Todd said during a Senate hearing, the newspaper reported.

Mr. Assange, 47, was born in Townsville, Australia, in 1971. He has lived in the Ecuadorian Embassy since 2012, however, when he sought asylum in the face of the U.S. investigating his WikiLeaks website over its publication of classified State and Defense Department material. British authorities issued a warrant for his arrest in the interim, and he fears he will be apprehended if he leaves the embassy and extradited to the U.S. to face charges related to releasing hundreds of thousands of secretive documents.

Ecuador granted asylum and citizenship to Mr. Assange in 2012 and 2017, respectively, but the future of his status has become clouded on account of the current administration in Quito repeatedly raising concerns recently regarding his ongoing residency.

Mr. Assange has been without a passport since his previous one expired several years ago, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Jennifer Robinson, a lawyer for Mr. Assange, applied for the passport on his behalf in the middle of 2018, prompting a response from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade acknowledging the WikiLeaks publisher’s peculiar situation, the report said.

“Specifically, we understand you may be the subject of an arrest warrant in connection with a ‘serious foreign offence’ within the meaning of section 13 of the Australian Passports Act 2005,” the DFAT replied at the time, the outlet reported. “In order to progress your application, we require confirmation that section 13 is not enlivened by your circumstances. To this end, we ask that you provide us with confirmation that section 13 no longer applies to you. Until this time, your passport application will remain on hold.”

Mr. Assange ultimately was issued the passport in 2018, the report said, following “lengthy negotiations” over whether he wanted abroad for a “serious” offense as described by Australian law.

A spokesperson for the DFAT subsequently told The Washington Times that Mr. Assange was, in fact, issued an Australia passport in September 2018.

Neither Ms. Robinson nor representatives for WikiLeaks immediately returned messages seeking comment.

Prosecutors in the U.S. have previously filed charges against individuals accused of supplying government secrets to WikiLeaks, but the Department of Justice has refused to state whether Mr. Assange is personally the subject of a criminal investigation.

Lawyers for a group representing journalists sued the Justice Department last year seeking access to any court documents involving a hypothetical case against Mr. Assange, but a federal court judge ruled for the DOJ’s late last month and agreed to keep any relevant files sealed.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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