Assange arrives in London court to hear bail fate

16th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange hears Thursday if he is to be freed on bail after more than a week in prison following his arrest on a Swedish warrant for questioning about alleged sex crimes.

The 39-year-old Australian arrived at the High Court in London ahead of the 11:30 am (1130 GMT0 hearing in a van from Wandsworth prison, where he has been held in solitary confinement virtually since his arrest on December 7.

He was granted bail on Tuesday, subject to electronic tagging, a curfew and a 240,000-pound (283,000-euro, 374,000-dollar) surety, but prosecution lawyers acting for Sweden appealed the decision. They will present their case at Thursday's hearing.

Sweden wants Britain to extradite Assange for questioning over claims of rape and sexual molestation against two women in Stockholm in August, which he denies and which his lawyers claim are politically motivated.

They cite the timing of his arrest, which coincided with the release by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks of thousands of confidential US diplomatic cables, causing huge embarrassment and anger in Washington.

If released on bail, Assange will have to live at the country estate of Vaughan Smith, a former British army officer who founded the Frontline Club, a media club in London where WikiLeaks has based part of its operations.

The subsequent extradition proceedings could take months.

But before he is freed, his supporters -- including maverick US film director Michael Moore, British director Ken Loach, and campaigning socialite Bianca Jagger -- must come up with 200,000 pounds of the bail money in cash.

One of Assange's lawyers, Mark Stephens, told reporters outside court: "We believe we will have the money today. It appears to be in the banking system."

He added of Thursday's hearing: "We are hopeful but of course it is a matter entirely for the judge."

The decision to challenge Assange's bail was taken by British state prosecutors acting on behalf of the Swedish authorities, but they were forced to defend this decision after the Swedes said they had not been consulted.

"The Crown Prosecution Service acts here as agents of the government seeking extradition, in this case the Swedish government," Britain's chief state prosecutor Keir Starmer told BBC radio Thursday.

A spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service added that it was common in extradition cases for British lawyers to take decisions on the course of action to be followed without consulting the country which issued the arrest warrant.

Thailand's royal family were the subject of the latest WikiLeaks revelations Thursday, as a leaked US diplomatic cable showed top palace officials expressed concern about the prospect of the crown prince becoming king.

Three influential Thai figures, including two senior advisers to revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, "had quite negative comments about Crown Prince (Maha) Vajiralongkorn," said the January 2010 memo from the US embassy in Bangkok.

Two of them, while asserting that the crown prince would become king, "implied the country would be better off if other arrangements could be made," according to the cable, published by The Guardian newspaper in Britain.

It cited concerns about his private life and suspected links to fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who remains hugely popular with many rural poor but is seen by the establishment as corrupt and a threat to the monarchy.

Another cable also revealed that an oil platform in Azerbaijan operated by BP suffered a well blowout and a huge gas leak around a year and a half before the Gulf of Mexico spill.

The news came as the United States filed a lawsuit against the British energy giant and eight other companies for billions of dollars in damages over the devastating Gulf oil spill, the worst in US history.

US President Barack Obama has led worldwide condemnation of the leaks, dubbing them "deplorable", and Washington is pursuing a criminal investigation into how WikiLeaks obtained the information.

© 2010 AFP

0 Comments To This Article