Ecuador: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can leave London embassy

Conditions have been met for Julian Assange to leave Ecuador's embassy in London. Britain has guaranteed that the WikiLeaks founder would not be extradited to any country where his life would be in danger.

Ecuador's president, Lenin Moreno, said on Thursday that "the way has been cleared" for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to leave the country's embassy in London.

Assange, 47, has spent the last six years in Ecuador's embassy to avoid arrest and extradition to Sweden on allegations of sexual assault. Sweden has since dropped the case, and Ecuador says there are no pending extradition requests against him.

Read more: Whistleblowers should be ‘protected not prosecuted’

The Australian activist, who published huge caches of files belonging to the United States Department of State and the Pentagon in 2010, has repeatedly expressed fears that Britain may extradite him to the US. Moreno, however, said Britain guaranteed that Assange would not be extradited to a country where his life would be in danger.

Law and Justice | 05.05.2018

"The British government has told us that the constitution of Great Britain bars extradition of a person to a place where his life is in danger or he faces the death penalty," Moreno said in a radio interview. Moreno added that Assange has to "serve a short sentence" in Britain for violating his bail conditions.

Sick of Assange

Ecuador has been looking to evict Assange from its London embassy for several months amid souring relations. He sued Quito in October for violating his "fundamental rights" and restricting his access to the outside world.

Read more: Julian Assange: Five years without sunlight

Carlos Poveda, one of Assange's lawyers, said last month that Assange was prepared to give himself up to British police provided he receives assurances he would not be extradited.

Barry Pollack, another one of Assange's lawyers, told the Telegraph newspaper that Ecuador should continue providing asylum to his client.

"The suggestion that as long as the death penalty is off the table, Mr. Assange need not fear persecution is obviously wrong," Pollack told the paper. "Since such charges appear to have been brought against Mr. Assange in the United States, Ecuador should continue to provide him asylum."

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US prosecutors inadvertently revealed the existence of a sealed indictment against Assange last month, according to WikiLeaks. The indictment suggested that the US will seek Assange's extradition if he leaves the embassy, though the charges he faces were not known. 

Read more: Opinion: Tolerating Wikileaks

Assange could be questioned in the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into possible Russian interference in the 2016 election that brought President Donald Trump to office. WikiLeaks has been accused of leaking thousands of emails allegedly stolen by Russian hackers from the Democratic campaign of Hillary Clinton.

British newspaper The Guardian reported that Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, held secret talks with Assange before the leak. 

Mueller charged 12 Russian spies in July with conspiring to hack the Democratic National Committee in an effort to sway the election.

Paul Manafort: Political insider

Longtime Republican adviser

Seen here on the campaign trail with then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016, Paul Manafort has been a fixture in Washington for decades. He worked for the campaigns of Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, as well as for unsuccessful 1996 candidate Bob Dole. Later, he began lobbying for foreign leaders in countries such as Saudi Arabia and for Russia-friendly politicians in Ukraine.

Paul Manafort: Political insider

History of working with dictators

His firm Manafort, Black and Kelly lobbied the US government on behalf of a number of unsavory characters including dictators like former Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, Ukraine's Viktor Yanukovych and others. Lobbying for foreign countries requires registration with the Justice Department, which Manafort failed to do.

Paul Manafort: Political insider

Corruption allegations

Ukraine's government has accused Manafort of receiving illegal, off-the-record payments from its predecessor. Manafort was also accused of supporting the violent removal of protesters from Kyiv's Maidan Nezalezhnosti square during Ukraine's 2014 uprising. Dozens of demonstrators were shot by police.

Paul Manafort: Political insider

Manafort's right-hand man

As Manafort's trial began, one of the key witnesses against him was Rick Gates (left), who cut a deal with special counsel Robert Mueller. Gates pleaded guilty in February 2018 and is cooperating with prosecutors. Gates has knowledge of Manafort's offshore bank accounts, his work for Ukraine and his relationship with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.

Paul Manafort: Political insider

Alleged witness tampering

In this photo from Manafort's consulting offices, Konstantin Kilimnik (left), who allegedly has ties to Russian intelligence, poses for a photo with Manafort and others. It is one of the few images known to exist of Kilimnik, who has been accused by the Mueller investigation of witness tampering.

Paul Manafort: Political insider

Indicted by federal grand jury

After being indicted, Manafort was allowed to remain free on bail after posting a $10 million dollar bond. A judge sent him to prison when prosecutors accused him of attempting to tamper with the testimony of two witnesses. In prison, Manafort was given VIP treatment, which included a phone and a laptop.

Paul Manafort: Political insider

Sentenced to prison

On March 7, 2019, Manafort was sentenced to nearly four years in prison for tax fraud, bank fraud and failing to disclose foreign bank accounts. He was also ordered to pay more than $24 million in restitution. Manafort did not to testify during the trial, but after the verdict he said the ordeal had left him "professionally and financially in shambles."

dv/sms (AFP, dpa)