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Assange lawyer says Sweden acted illegally

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is accused of sexually assaulting one woman and raping another during a weeklong visit to Stockholm, Sweden, in August.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is accused of sexually assaulting one woman and raping another during a weeklong visit to Stockholm, Sweden, in August.Matt Dunham / AP
/ Source: news services

A lawyer for Julian Assange and a Swedish legal expert on Tuesday accused prosecutors in Sweden of irregularities and illegality in the way they built a sex crimes case against the WikiLeaks founder.

Assange's Swedish lawyer, Bjorn Hurtig, said an initial prosecutor "acted against the laws of confidentiality, telling one of our tabloid newspapers that Julian was suspected of rape." He said prosecutors and police had leaked details of the case to the media.

Assange is fighting extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over claims of rape and sexual molestation made by two women. His lawyers argue that the global publicity around the case and the Swedish custom of hearing rape cases behind closed doors mean he would not get a fair trial.

His attorney, Geoffrey Robertson, told an extradition hearing Monday that closed-door hearings would be "a flagrant denial of justice."

Assange's lawyers argue that being sent to Sweden could be a stepping stone to extradition to the U.S., where he could end up facing execution for leaking secrets.

Sven-Erik Alhem, a former chief prosecutor in Sweden appearing as a defense witness, said prosecutor Marianne Ny "should have made sure Assange was able to give his version of events in detail" before issuing an arrest warrant. Alhem also said it was "extraordinary" that a prosecutor had leaked Assange's name to the media.

Assange's lawyers say prosecutors have rebuffed his offer to be questioned from London about the allegations, which he denies.

In written testimony, Alhem said prosecutors turned down an opportunity to talk to Assange in Sweden because the police officer involved was sick. This was "no excuse", he said.

But the British lawyer representing Sweden, Clare Montgomery, said Ny had issued an arrest warrant for Assange only after making repeated unsuccessful attempts to arrange an interview with him.

In a court document read aloud by Montgomery, Ny said that "it must have been crystal clear to Julian Assange ... that we were extremely anxious to interview him."

But, Ny said, an interview could not be set up and at one point Assange's Swedish lawyer, Hurtig, was unable to contact him for several days. Ny said given this background, "We consider Julian Assange is an obvious flight risk and it cannot be considered an overreaction to detain him."

'Media storm'
Assange is accused of sexually assaulting one woman and raping another during a weeklong visit to Stockholm in August.

One of Assange's Swedish accusers, "Miss A", alleges he "sexually molested her" by ignoring her request for him to use a condom when having sex with her. A second, "Miss W", says Assange had sex with her without a condom while she was asleep.

In Swedish law, sex with a person who is asleep can constitute rape.

The defense says Assange had consensual sex with his two accusers and has not committed any crime.

In a written statement to court, Hurtig said "the case is one of the weakest I have ever seen in my professional career."

Assange's wide-ranging arguments against extradition range from criticism of Ny to claims that he could eventually be extradited from Sweden to the United States, and even sent to the detention center at the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

However, Alhem appeared to undermine the defense claim that Assange could be extradited when he said that it was not possible for Assange to be sent from Sweden to the U.S. on the current European Arrest Warrant. He also said it was "completely impossible that Mr. Assange could be extradited to the United States without a complete media storm."

Alhem said that, contrary to claims by Assange's lawyers, Ny does have the authority to issue an arrest warrant for the 39-year-old Australian.

Tension ran high between the legal teams, with Montgomery at one point asking Assange lawyer Mark Stephens to be quiet.

Assange, wearing a blue suit, sat calmly and took notes while in the dock at London's high-security Belmarsh Magistrates' Court on the second day of a two-day hearing.

The secrets-spilling website touched off an international uproar when it released classified helicopter video showing a U.S. attack that killed two Reuters journalists in Iraq. It later began publishing classified U.S. diplomatic cables whose revelations angered and embarrassed the U.S. and its allies.

American officials are trying to build a criminal case against WikiLeaks. Assange's lawyers claim the Swedish prosecution is linked to the leaks and politically motivated — a claim Sweden strongly denies.

Assange was arrested in London in December after Sweden issued a warrant on rape and molestation accusations.

He was released on bail on condition that he live — under curfew and electronically tagged — at a supporter's country mansion in eastern England, and Assange has managed to conduct multiple media interviews and sign a reported $1.5 million deal for a memoir.

The extradition hearing is due to end Tuesday, but Judge Howard Riddle could take several weeks to consider his ruling — which can be appealed by either side.