Assange to be extradited to Sweden, judge rules

Wikileaks editor Julian Assange must be sent to Sweden to face questioning on sex-crime allegations, chief magistrate Howard Riddle has ordered
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

Julian Assange can be extradited to Sweden for interrogation by prosecutors looking into sex-crime allegations against the Wikileaks editor, a UK judge has ruled.

Julian Assange

A judge in London has ruled that Wikileaks editor Julian Assange should be extradited to Sweden to face sexual-assault charges. Photo credit: CBS News

At Belmarsh Magistrates Court in London on Thursday, chief magistrate Howard Riddle said that defence arguments had not convinced him to deny the Swedish authorities' request to issue a European arrest warrant (EAW) against Assange.

"I must order that Mr Assange be extradited to Sweden," said Riddle. "Mr Assange has seven days to appeal the decision."

After the ruling (PDF), Assange's supporters told ZDNet UK that there will be an appeal.

Riddle said that the magistrates court is not in a position to make judgement on costs, and suggested the high court will look at this, after the case goes to appeal. He also deferred making a decision on bail for Assange.

In his ruling, Riddle said that Assange should be interrogated by Swedish police in connection with allegations by two women of sexual coercion.

It does not seem unreasonable to expect and indeed to require the presence of Mr Assange in Sweden for questioning, and if necessary to take a DNA sample.
– Howard Riddle, chief magistrate

"It does not seem unreasonable to expect and indeed to require the presence of Mr Assange in Sweden for questioning, and if necessary to take a DNA sample," he said.

The judge rejected defence arguments, presented during two-and-a-half days of hearings earlier in February, that Assange might not get fair treatment.

Defence lawyers argued that the Wikileaks editor had been 'vilified' by Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt in comments to the press, and that this had "created a toxic atmosphere" for Assange in Sweden.

Riddle said that Reinfeldt's comments will have "no impact on any verdict", as any case against Assange will be heard by three Swedish judges.

"I find it highly unlikely that any comment has been made with intent to interfere with the course of justice," he told the court. "Any comments made during the course of [this] case, whether favourable or unfavourable, will make no difference [to its outcome]."

Rejected arguments

Riddle also discounted evidence from defence witness Brita Sundberg-Weitman, a former judge, who said that Marianne Ny, the Swedish prosecutor behind the EAW, is biased against men.

Howard Riddle said that Sundberg-Weitman did not personally know Ny, and had based her statements on what she had been told by the defence and what she had heard in the press.

"The attack on [Ny's] credibility amounts to very little," said Riddle.

In answer to a defence argument that Ny did not have the authority to issue the EAW, Riddle said that the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) had already considered and decided on that question. He said that Soca is better placed than the court to decide on the correct judicial authority for extradition.

In addition, Riddle said that Assange's Swedish lawyer Bjorn Hurtig had deliberately misled the court. In evidence, Hurtig said that Ny had not made an effort to question Assange before the Wikileaks founder left Sweden in September 2010. The judge said evidence showed that Ny had in fact made an effort to question Assange before he left.

Riddle said that cross-examination had revealed the extent of Hurtig's error, which the judge believed was deliberate.

"I do not accept this is a genuine mistake," said Riddle. "It cannot have slipped [Hurtig's] mind."

Some Assange supporters have suggested that if the Wikileaks editor is sent to Sweden, this will make it easier for US prosecutors to extradite him. Riddle said that he did not take this possibility into account in his decision, as any extradition of this kind would have to be approved by the UK home secretary. The US is currently evaluating whether Wikileaks and Assange have broken any US laws.

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