Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno was due in London Saturday amid media speculation about the fate of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is holed up in the South American country’s embassy.
Moreno plans to attend the Global Disability Summit, co-hosted by the UK, the International Disability Alliance and the government of Kenya.
While Moreno is not expected to be meeting with any British official during the visit, media has already begun speculating that he has reached an agreement with London on Assange’s future, suggesting the whistleblower faces the threat of expulsion.
Assange, the Australian founder of the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, has been granted asylum by Moreno’s predecessor, Rafael Corra after he took refuge in the country’s embassy in London.
He has been living in the Ecuadorian mission since Swedish prosecutors issued a European arrest warrant against him over allegations of rape and sexual assault filed by two women in 2010.
Assange has denied the accusations, saying the claims were politically-motivated and that the coercive measures were meant to silence him. He fears extradition to the US, where he is wanted for leaking classified data on his website.
Earlier this year, Moreno called Assange “an inherited problem,” that has created “more than a nuisance” for his government.
British newspaper The Times wrote in a report last Sunday that Moreno’s government has been in secret talks with the UK government in an effort to “evict” Assange from Ecuador’s London embassy.
According to the report, UK Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan was representing the UK in the talks. He formerly called Assange “a miserable little worm” and demanded that he “face justice.”
Last May, Swedish prosecutors dropped their probe into the rape accusation against Assange. The whistleblower has however remained inside the embassy in order to avoid extradition to the United States.
In the US, he is accused of espionage and leaking thousands of classified documents related to military operations —one of the largest information leaks in American history.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said ironically that Assange was free to walk outside the doors of the Ecuadorean embassy at any time he wished, and that “the British police will have a warm welcome for him.’’
Hunt said Assange has had “serious charges laid against him’’ and “we want him to face justice.”
Sources close to Assange, however, say he himself was not aware of the secret talks between Ecuador and the UK, but believe America is piling “significant pressure” on Ecuador to hand him over.
They say Washington has threatened Quito with blocking a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) if Assange is not removed from the embassy.