JULIAN Assange should be extradited to Sweden to face a series of sex allegations, a British judge ruled last night.
The Australian founder of the WikiLeaks website instantly appealed to the British High Court against last night’s verdict in the Belmarsh Magistrates Court, but Judge Howard Riddell had earlier made it clear he had no doubt about the validity of Sweden’s extradition case.
Mr Assange had faced being extradited within 10 days and held in jail in Stockholm with no possibility of bail but his barrister, Geoffrey Robertson QC, signalled an appeal process that could take many months.
Mr Assange, 39, showed no emotion when the judge issued his verdict. He faces up to four years in jail on four allegations of sexual assault against two women in Stockholm last August.
Judge Riddell was withering in his criticism of certain parts of Mr Assange’s defence, accusing his Swedish lawyer, Bjorn Hurtig, of deliberately misleading the court by claiming that Swedish prosecutors had not tried promptly enough to interview Mr Assange before he left the country last year.
In a rare and sharp attack on a lawyer, Judge Riddell said Mr Hurtig’s evidence had been shown to be false and amounted to “a deliberate attempt to mislead this court”. He concluded Mr Hurtig was “an unreliable witness”.
Dismissing almost every argument mounted by Mr Assange’s high-powered defence team, Judge Riddell said “it would be a reasonable assumption from the facts that Mr Assange deliberately avoided interrogation before he left Sweden”.
The judge conceded it was a concern that Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt had made public comments critical of Mr Assange, but said he was “absolutely satisfied” that such public comments would not stop him getting a fair trial in Sweden.
Crucially, the judge shot down claims by Mr Robertson that the alleged offences were not valid grounds for extradition because they would not be considered criminal offences in Britain.
All of the four offences did in fact meet the criteria for extradition offences, he said.
The most serious allegation surrounded a claim by one of the women that Mr Assange had sex with her when she was asleep and without a condom, and “in this country that would amount to rape”, the judge said.
The defence had also argued that the European Arrest Warrant against Mr Assange was invalid because Swedish authorities only wanted to question him rather than lay charges. But the judge said it was clear to him they intended to prosecute.
Mr Assange claims the sex allegations are a politically inspired attempt to get him to Sweden and perhaps to extradite him to the US to face charges over the massive leaks of US secret cables.
But Judge Riddell said he did not see any threat to Mr Assange’s human rights if he was sent to Sweden.
There was no evidence he would be shipped on to the US and face the torture and human rights abuses alleged by Mr Assange’s defence team.
Any further extradition to the US could only go ahead with the approval of the UK Home Secretary, and the US had not yet laid any criminal allegations against Mr Assange despite months of legal investigations.
Nothing in the extradition attempt offended the European Convention on Human Rights, the judge said.