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British court weighs decision on Assange extradition

Two judges defer a decision over whether to allow the WikiLeaks founder to be sent to Sweden to face allegations of sexual misconduct.
WikiLeaks founder Assange arrives at the High Court in London
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, center, arrives at the High Court in London on Tuesday.Suzanne Plunkett / REUTERS
/ Source: news services

Two judges on Wednesday deferred a decision over whether to allow WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to be extradited to Sweden from Britain to face allegations of sexual misconduct.

A written judgment will be handed down at a later, unspecified date.

The 40-year-old Australian computer expert was in the High Court in London for the final day of a two-day hearing after losing an initial challenge to the extradition order in February.

Swedish prosecutors want to question Assange about three allegations of sexual assault and one of rape made by two women, both WikiLeaks volunteers, in Sweden last August. Assange denies the allegations and no formal charges have yet been brought.

Assange's defense team has asked two judges to block his extradition, arguing the case was legally flawed and that sex had always been consensual.

But Clare Montgomery, appearing for the Swedish prosecuting authority, dismissed the Assange claims, saying it was "perfectly plain" that the women had made allegations of non-consensual sex.

The defense's argument has centered on the fact that Assange has not been formally accused of any crime yet in Sweden, though his team concede that could come at a later date.

Assange's defense lawyers told the court Tuesday the European arrest warrant on which he was being held was flawed because it failed to provide "a fair, accurate and proper" description of his alleged sexual misconduct in Sweden.

His team also said it had no access to the full dossier detailing the allegations against him.

Defense: No need to extradite
Defense lawyer Ben Emmerson stressed that interviews could take place by telephone, using Skype, or in writing, under Swedish law, without the need to extradite.

Legal teams acting for both Assange and Swedish authorities have said they did not expect the two judges hearing the case to make a decision on the appeal on the same day.

Assange's lawyer, Ben Emmerson, said Tuesday that while the women may have found Assange's sexual conduct distressing, it was "entirely consensual."

Addressing the most serious allegation — that Assange had unprotected sex with a woman while she slept — Emmerson argued that she had intercourse with Assange only hours before and in any case did not seem bothered, quoting testimony stating that "she let him continue."

The argument was attacked by Montgomery, who on Wednesday accused Emmerson of "effectively winding the law on consent back to the 19th century."

"At best, the words 'I let him,' amounts to submission, not free consent," she said.

The lawyers also sparred over whether Swedish prosecutors were allowed to issue European arrest warrants or whether the Swedish case had moved far enough to justify an extradition request.

Assange sat quietly in court, flanked by aides and supporters that include fellow Australian and left-wing investigative journalist and author, John Pilger.

Assange's whistle-blowing website began publishing a cache of more than 250,000 secret U.S. diplomatic cables which angered the U.S. government and caused a media sensation last year shortly before Assange was arrested.

Assange has said he believes the Swedish case is politically motivated.

Even if the High Court upholds the extradition request, Assange could take his battle to Britain's Supreme Court, the country's highest, though this can only be done on a point of law considered to be of general public interest.

A Supreme Court ruling would mark the end of the process.