The Post

Police end their $29m watch on Assange


POLICE officers who have been guarding WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange around the clock for the past three years have been withdrawn from outside the Ecuadorean embassy in London to make better use of ‘‘finite resources’’, Scotland Yard says.

The Metropolit­an Police said it had spent £12.6 million (NZ$28.9m) on the operation and would now focus on covert surveillan­ce.

At least two officers from the Diplomatic Protection Group have been present at the embassy in Knightsbri­dge since Assange, 44, sought refuge there in June 2012, having failed in the Supreme Court to avoid extraditio­n to Sweden for questionin­g on allegation­s of rape and sexual assault.

The decision to remove the officers, put down to budgetary restraints in the face of impending government cuts of between 20 and 40 per cent, will prompt speculatio­n that assurances have been given by the Ecuadorean­s or Assange that he has no plans to flee.

‘‘While the [force] remains committed to executing the arrest warrant and presenting Julian Assange before the court, it is only right that the policing operation to achieve this is continuall­y reviewed against the diplomatic and legal efforts to resolve the situation,’’ the Met said.

The Ecuadorean ambassador was summoned to Britain’s Foreign Office by Sir Simon McDonald, the head of the Diplomatic Service, to discuss the case.

As well as the uniformed officers, the embassy has been under covert surveillan­ce since Assange, an Australian, went into hiding.

He was accused in 2010 of sex offences against two women during a trip to Sweden. In August, three of the four allegation­s had to be abandoned under the Swedish statute of limitation­s.

Assange went into hiding fearing further extraditio­n to the United States on charges of sedition and espionage.

During his confinemen­t in the embassy, Assange converted a women’s toilet into a bedroom. Previously, he had establishe­d that the Met had been given permission to use a stairwell adjacent to the embassy to spy on the office he originally used as a bedroom.

In July 2013, Ricardo Patino, Ecuador’s foreign minister, said while on an official visit that his security staff had discovered a covert listening device during a sweep of the ambassador’s office.

Murad Qureshi, a Labour member of the London Assembly, criticised the change of approach, asking why, if covert tactics had been available all along, had the Met taken ‘‘three years and £12 million to wake up to the fact that the embassy could have been policed for far less money?’’.

The Met said: ‘‘A significan­t amount of time has passed since Julian Assange entered the embassy, and despite the efforts of many people, there is no imminent prospect of a diplomatic or legal resolution to this issue.’’

Julian Assange

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