2:51 AM on 3rd December 2010
WikiLeaks supremo Julian Assange could be arrested in Britain today over sex allegations.
Scotland Yard detectives were last night preparing to detain the 39-year-old over claims of rape and sexual assault in Sweden. An extradition warrant is expected to be passed to the Metropolitan Police today or early next week. They have apparently known for over a month where Australian-born Mr Assange, who is in hiding in south-east England, is staying. He supplied the force with his contact details upon arrival in Britain in October, said his London-based lawyer.
It today emerged that Mr Assange only escaped arrest yesterday because the Swedish authorities filled out an Interpol arrest warrant incorrectly. A Scotland Yard spokesman said: ‘If an international arrest warrant is legitimately issued and is passed to us and if we know where that person is then of course we would arrest them.’ The internet whistleblower will be the subject of an international manhunt when the Interpol ‘red notice’ is correctly issued. He was added to the worldwide wanted list amid growing fury in Washington at the mass release of more than 250,000 classified U.S. communiques. One aide said: ‘The inquiry into the criminal nature of the leaks is still at a preliminary stage in Washington, but Sweden clearly thinks the charges against him are serious enough for him to be extradited back there.’
There had been reports that the U.S. was investigating whether Mr Assange had committed treason, but as he is an Australian citizen such charges would not stick. Mark Stephens, Mr Assange’s lawyer, has questioned the timing of Interpol’s warrant, saying his client was being persecuted. Mr Assange lives a rootless life, has hardly any possessions and uses his Australian passport to stay with friends in various countries. Prosecutors in Sweden want to question him over alleged attacks on two women during a visit to Stockholm to give a lecture to the Social Democratic Party in August.
He is accused of attacking one woman in Stockholm and then sexually assaulting another woman in the town of Enkoping, 40 miles from the capital, three days later. Mr Stephens said his client had repeatedly offered to meet Swedish investigators either at the Swedish embassy in London or a UK police station. ‘The allegations against him are false and without basis,’ he added. Kristinn Hrafnsson, a spokesman for WikiLeaks, said Mr Assange and other staff were in hiding in an undisclosed location outside London. ‘If you have people calling for your assassination it is wise to keep a low profile,’ he said. ‘He is in a secret location working on the project. Julian says he is innocent and I believe him.’ He added that Mr Assange would disclose his location and clear his name ‘in due course’. The WikiLeaks founder has not been seen in public since a press conference in Geneva on November 5.