Assange abused our hospitality – Ecuador
Julian Assange repeatedly violated his asylum conditions and tried to use the Ecuadorian embassy in London as a “centre for spying”, the Ecuadorian president has said in an interview with the Guardian.
Lenín Moreno also said he had been given written undertakings from Britain that Assange’s rights would be respected and he would not be sent anywhere to face the death penalty.
Assange, 47, was taken from the embassy by British police last Thursday after Ecuador revoked his political asylum, ending a near seven-year stay there. The WikiLeaks co-founder faces up to 12 months in prison after being found guilty of breaching bail conditions when he entered the Ecuadorian embassy in 2012. He made the move after losing a battle against extradition to Sweden where he faced allegations, including rape, which he denies.
He is now expected to fight extradition to the US over an allegation that he conspired with the former US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to break into a classified government computer.
Sweden is also weighing up whether to reopen an investigation into rape and sexual assault allegations. When there are
competing extradition requests in the UK, the home secretary decides which country should take priority.
Moreno’s move against Assange has proved controversial in Ecuador. The previous president, Rafael Correa, has accused his former political ally of “a crime humanity will never forget”, describing Moreno as “the greatest traitor in Ecuadorian and Latin American history”.
In what may have been part of a campaign to weaken Moreno, WikiLeaks was linked to an anonymous website that claimed Moreno’s brother had created an offshore company, and leaked material included private pictures of Moreno and his family.
In his first interview with Englishspeaking media since Assange was removed from the embassy, Moreno denied that he had acted in reprisal for the leaking of documents about his family and said he regretted Assange’s alleged use of the embassy to interfere in other country’s democracies.
“Any attempt to destabilise is a reprehensible act for Ecuador, because we are a sovereign nation and respectful of the politics of each country,” he said in the interview, which was conducted over email.
“It is unfortunate that, from our territory and with the permission of authorities of the previous government, facilities have been provided within the Ecuadorian embassy in London to interfere in processes of other states.
“We cannot allow our house, the house that opened its doors, to become a centre for spying. This activity violates asylum conditions. Our decision is not arbitrary, but is based on international law.”
He accused Assange of repeatedly interfering in the affairs of other states, citing WikiLeaks’ publication of Vatican documents in January 2019 as an example. “It is unfortunate that there are individuals dedicated to violating the privacy of people,” Moreno said.
He also said the decision to cooperate with the UK and eject Assange from the embassy was not forced on him by any external power. “He was a guest who was offered a dignified treatment, but he did not have the basic principle of reciprocity for the country that knew how to welcome him or the willingness to accept protocols to the country that welcomed him. The withdrawal of his asylum occurred in strict adherence to international law. It is a sovereign decision. We do not make decisions based on external pressures from any country.”
He also asserted he had been given guarantees about Assange’s possible extradition to the US.
“For us the maximum right to protect is the right to life,” he said. “For this reason, we consulted the government of the United Kingdom on the possibility of Assange’s extradition to third countries where he could suffer torture, ill-treatment or the death penalty. The United Kingdom extended written guarantees that, if extradition is eventually requested, he will not be extradited to any country where he may suffer such treatment.”
Moreno also lambasted Assange’s treatment of his diplomatic staff in London. “Assange’s attitude was absolutely reprehensible and outrageous after all the protection provided by the Ecuadorian state for almost seven years. He mistreated our officials in the Ecuadorian embassy in London; abused the patience of Ecuadorians.
“He developed an aggressive campaign against Ecuador and started to make legal threats even against who was helping him.” Any form of coexistence with Assange in the embassy became a headache, Moreno added. “He maintained constant improper hygienic behaviour throughout his stay, which affected his own health and the internal climate of the diplomatic mission.
“In addition, Assange had health problems that should also be resolved. We never tried to expel Assange, as some political actors want everyone to believe. Given the constant violations of protocols and threats, political asylum became untenable.”
Assange’s lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, yesterday disputed allegations of poor behaviour on Assange’s part. “I think the first thing to say is Ecuador has been making some pretty outrageous allegations over the past few days to justify what was an unlawful and extraordinary act in allowing British police to come inside an embassy,” she told Sky. Pressed over the veracity of the allegations, Robinson said: “That’s not true.”
She also said Assange’s fears of a US extradition threat were proved correct this week after allegations were made that he conspired to hack into a classified Pentagon computer.
Assange’s father, John Shipton, who lives in Melbourne, urged Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, to help his son and suggested he could be brought back to his home country. Morrison “should in a nuanced way do something” to help, Shipton told the Herald Sun newspaper. “It can be resolved simply to the satisfaction of all.” Morrison has previously said Assange, an Australian citizen, would have consular assistance available to him but would not get “special treatment”.
Moreno said Assange could not use asylum to escape the law. “Under international law, Ecuador has safeguarded Assange’s basic rights, but those rights cannot prevent him from appearing before the courts and responding to accusations against him … Political asylum cannot be used as a way to evade the consequences of committing crimes.”
Asked what he thought of Correa’s comments, Moreno replied: “If being a traitor means defending democracy, freedom of the press, as well as revealing the truth and corruption of the previous political regime, then he can call me what whatever he wants. He is within his rights to express himself freely.”
He also dismissed Correa’s suggestion that he had thrown Assange out of the embassy as part of a deal in which the US would lobby to lift his country’s debt.
“It is a fallacy that there will be debt relief in exchange of Assange. This statement has been generated and disseminated by groups related to the previous regime that did not want to find a solution to the Assange case beyond having him locked up in our embassy.
“With the United States, we work on issues of cooperation, trade, culture and security. At no time has Assange’s status been negotiated with that country.”
The RSPCA is facing renewed scrutiny of its governance after it emerged police are investigating suspected fraud involving hundreds of thousands of pounds at its south-east London branch.
Two men have been arrested in connection with the alleged offences, and a forensic audit into the branch has been taking place. Ivan House, who resigned as a trustee last October amid concerns about the way the situation was being handled, said the scale of the suspected fraud was believed to be between £330,000 and £450,000.
The RSPCA has been plagued by controversy in recent years. Peter Ralphs, the former chairman of the Shropshire branch of the charity, was jailed for three years in January after admitting he had abused his position to steal £184,000.
Last July, the Tunbridge Wells and Maidstone branch was criticised by the Charity Commission over “concerning gaps in record keeping” in relation to the purchase of a cattery, which the daughter of the then national chair – and chair of the local branch – Daphne Harris was appointed to run and also lived in. It said there had been failures in the charity’s governance.
The following month, the commission issued an official warning to the RSPCA over a hefty payout to its former chief executive, saying trustees had failed to ensure the decision was properly made, and that their failings amounted to mismanagement. It said it had experienced a concerning level of engagement with the RSPCA over its governance in recent years, given the charity’s size and importance.
A spokesman for the commission, responding to the latest fraud allega- tions, said: “A serious incident was reported to the commission in line with our guidance on reporting serious incidents and we opened a regulatory compliance case to assess the charity’s response.
“We expect the trustees to submit the findings of their internal investigation once complete, which we will review, as well as any necessary policies and procedures, including around financial controls, to ensure the charity has acted appropriately.”
The suspected fraud was discovered during an audit of the south-east London branch in June when it was found almost £16,000 had been spent on bills at Premier Inn hotels. House said subsequent investigations had raised further questions and the problems at the branch had left him with concerns about the national charity’s oversight.
The two men arrested were branch trustees. All seven trustees who were in place have either been removed or have left, and three new trustees, all members of the RSPCA’s national council, have been appointed.
The Charity Commission website said the branch’s accounts for the financial year ending 31 December 2017 were 160 days overdue. Income in each of the previous four years was between £193,000 and £227,000. Annual spending ranged from £178,000 to £227,000. The national RSPCA charity received income of £141m in 2017 and spent £129m.
An RSPCA spokesperson said: “After concerns were raised about the running of the London South East branch, which is a separately registered charity from the national RSPCA, a financial review was launched. The issue has been referred to the police and we are not in a position to comment further, but we would like to reassure our supporters that the branch continues to operate as usual.”
The Metropolitan police said officers received an allegation of fraud on 3 September. “On 12 September two men – aged 44 and 55 – were arrested on suspicion of fraud. Both have been released under investigation. Inquiries continue.”
Assange ‘maintained constant improper hygienic behaviour’ while inside the embassy, Moreno said