As­sange abused our hos­pi­tal­ity – Ecuador

The Guardian - - FRONT PAGE - Pa­trick Win­tour Diplo­matic edi­tor

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

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