Next month will mark seven years since Julian Assange first sought asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Even though Sweden dropped a sex crimes investigation into Assange back in May, he has been forced to remain confined to a cramped room, where he has no access to the outdoors, since AG Jeff Sessions reaffirmed that the DOJ intends to prosecute Assange for his role in leaking the Iraq war logs, State Department cables and DNC emails.
And with a Freedom of Information case brought by a journalist for the Italian newspaper La Repubblica set to be decided in London next week, surprising details published by the Guardian Friday suggest a representative for the UK government intentionally discouraged Swedish investigators from meeting with Assange in person - something that investigators say could’ve led the country’s government to drop its charges against the Wikileaks founder years ago. The report also shows that the Crown Prosecution Service, the branch of UK law enforcement responsible for criminal prosecutions, deleted emails pertaining to Assange's extradition case after the lawyer in charge of it - the same lawyer who advised Swedish investigators not to interview Assange in London - retired.
The Crown Prosecution Service is facing embarrassment after admitting it destroyed key emails relating to the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is holed up in Ecuador’s London embassy fighting extradition.
Email exchanges between the CPS and its Swedish counterparts over the high-profile case were deleted after the lawyer at the UK end retired in 2014.
The destruction of potentially sensitive and revealing information comes ahead of a tribunal hearing in London next week.
Adding to the intrigue, it emerged the CPS lawyer involved had, unaccountably, advised the Swedes in 2010 or 2011 not to visit London to interview Assange. An interview at that time could have prevented the long-running embassy standoff. In a laughably ironic admission, the prosecutors’ office said it had no knowledge of the content of the emails - but assured the Guardian that they didn’t contain anything that could’ve influenced the outcome of a criminal case involving Assange.
UK government officials have said the CPS inadvertently destroyed the emails after the lawyer in charge of the Assange extradition case retired in 2014. By that time, an office spokesperson said, the case had been settled.
Amazing: not only did UK authorities destroy key docs in the Assange case, but they pressured Sweden not to interrogate Assange in the UK, which gave rise to the 6-year standoff: https://t.co/VY8DlL2FIe— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) November 10, 2017
Of course, one can’t help but wonder, given the repeated denials and stonewalling, if this is some kind of coverup. Assange’s allies feared that if he had been extradited to Sweden, he could then be extradited from Sweden to the US.
The CPS, responding to questions from the Guardian, denied there were any legal implications of the data loss for an Assange case if it were to come to court in the future. Asked if the CPS had any idea what was destroyed, a spokesperson said: “We have no way of knowing the content of email accounts once they have been deleted."
Assange, whose WikiLeaks has been involved in a series of controversial leaks that include the Iraq war logs, US state department cables and Democratic party emails, was wanted by Sweden as part of a preliminary investigation into rape allegations. Sweden dropped the investigation in May.
Detractors of Assange, who sought refuge in Ecuador’s embassy in 2012, accuse him of collaborating with Russian propagandists in undermining Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency and helping Donald Trump secure it.
Supporters of Assange fear he could have been extradited to the US from Sweden and might yet from the UK. The US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, said this year Assange was a priority for the justice department and US federal prosecutors are believed to be considering charges against him over the leaks.
The FOIA request that led to this revelation was filed by Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi a reporter for the Italian Newspaper La Repubblica, who will be represented at the FOIA hearing next week by two Barristers.
Maurizi unearthed two years ago, through an FOI request to the Swedish prosecutors, an email from a lawyer in the CPS extradition unit on Jan. 25 2011 saying: “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 UK."
The sentence was redacted in the email obtained by Maurizi from the CPS under an FOI request but not when it was released under an FOI request from the Swedish prosecutors.
As La Repubblica points out, Assange is the only western publisher being arbitrarily detained in Europe, according to two decisions by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions in February 2016, a decision that has completely faded into oblivion. Dec. 7 will mark seven years since he lost his freedom, yet as far as we know, in the course of these last 7 years no media has tried to access the full file on Julian Assange. Maurizi will appear before a Freedom of Information tribunal in London on Monday to argue for the release of more information. Jennifer Robinson, a Doughty Street chambers barrister, and Estelle Dehon, who specialises in freedom of information, will be representing Maurizi at the tribunal, set for Monday and Tuesday.
Specifically, La Repubblica will be defending the press’s right to access the documents regarding Assange’s case after trying in vain for the last two years. Maurizi, a reporter on La Repubblica who has covered Wikileaks since 2009, has been pressing both the CPS and its Swedish counterpart for information relating to Assange and extradition.
Government spokespeople dispute the notion that the Assange case was “live” when the emails were inadvertently deleted in 2012 because the extradition proceedings had concluded. However, Assange remains trapped in the Ecuadorean embassy.
Unhappy over the limited material released so far, she is taking her case against the CPS to an information tribunal on Monday and Tuesday.
“It is incredible to me these records about an ongoing and high-profile case have been destroyed. I think they have something to hide,” Maurizi said.
By securing the release of more documents, she is hoping to establish how much influence the UK had in the decision of the Swedish authorities at the time not to travel to London to interview Assange. She is also looking for evidence of US involvement in extradition moves.
Assange declined to travel to Sweden at the time, expressing fear it was a ruse that could pave the way for his extradition to the US. His lawyers offered a compromise in which Swedish investigators could interview him in person in London or by a video link, but the Swedish authorities did not take up the offer at the time.
If we’re reading this correctly, it would appear that a lawyer in the CPS unilaterally discouraged Swedish investigators not to interview Assange in person, knowing that Assange wouldn’t travel to Sweden voluntarily for fear of being extradited to the US. While Assange’s lawyers offered Sweden the opportunity to interview their client via video link, Swedish authorities declined to accept.
This helped pave the way for a yearslong diplomatic standoff, all the while forcing Assange to live under conditions that even prisoners in US maximum security prisons aren’t forced to endure - indeed, at least prisoners are allowed at least an hour outdoors per day.
Robinson, who has also represented Assange, said: “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 UK has been found to have breached its international obligations."
A spokesperson for the CPS said the agency has more than 50 files on Assange, and depending on the tribunal’s final ruling next week, much of the information contained therein could be released to the public.
We’re certainly curious to learn more.
Big case on my detention Monday+Tuesday next week https://t.co/c5WbwKqwZf— Julian Assange ???? (@JulianAssange) November 10, 2017