Ecuadoran President Lenin Moreno claims WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange tried to use Ecuador's Embassy in London as a “center for spying,” and that the decision to strip the whistleblower of his political asylum followed “violations” of that status.
Assange was hauled out of the embassy by UK police in a dramatic arrest operation last week after Moreno – who took office in 2017 -- revoked his political asylum over allegations of bad behavior during his nearly seven-year stay at the diplomatic mission.
The 47-year-old journalist is now in UK custody, awaiting sentencing for breaching his British bail conditions in 2012 by seeking refuge in the Ecuadoran Embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden.
In Sweden, he once faced two sexual abuse charges, the first of which expired in 2015. The other allegation was also dropped in 2017, but the alleged rape victim has now asked for the case to be reopened.
Moreover, he faces extradition to the US on the charge of conspiring with former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to steal military secrets.
Assange, an Australian national, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
In an interview with The Guardian on Sunday, Moreno defended his decision on the Assange case and said the whistleblower had used Ecuador’s Embassy in London as a “center for spying.”
“It is unfortunate that, from our territory and with the permission of authorities of the previous government, facilities have been provided within the Ecuadoran Embassy in London to interfere in processes of other states,” the president said.
“We cannot allow our house … to become a center for spying,” Moreno said. “It is unfortunate that there are individuals dedicated to violating the privacy of people.”
Moreno’s comments could be a reference to the recent publication of information on the Ecuadorian President’s brother, who, according to an anonymous website linked to WikiLeaks, had established an offshore company.
Moreno also accused Assange of a number of everyday wrongdoings such as “improper hygienic behavior” and mistreating embassy staff.
“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 [from] the country that welcomed him,” Moreno said.
Moreno has been under fire over the past days by civil liberties, media freedom and human rights groups for overturning Assange’s asylum status, which they argue could expose him to serious human rights violations.
The president, however, said 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 it may suffer such treatment.”
Assange’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson said earlier that Ecuador had fabricated claims about Assange to justify the decision to turn him in to the UK police.
“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 media.
Robinson insisted that the allegations raised against her client were not true.
WikiLeaks had recently warned that Assange was likely to be expelled from the embassy soon.