Assange 'offered to be interviewed in Sweden': lawyer

8th February 2011, Comments 0 comments

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange repeatedly offered to be interviewed in Sweden last year over allegations of rape and molestation, his Swedish lawyer told a British court on Tuesday.

On the second day of an extradition hearing in London, Bjorn Hurtig said Assange had been prepared to meet prosecutors in Sweden in September and October over the accusations made by two women he met at a WikiLeaks seminar.

Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny wants to question Assange over allegations he raped one of the women and sexually molested the other, but he argues the moves are politically motivated following WikiLeaks' release of classified US cables.

Ny insists she was unable to contact Assange.

The 39-year-old Australian was arrested in London in December after Sweden issued an international warrant.

The extradition hearing, which had originally been scheduled to last two days, was adjourned until Friday when lawyers will make closing arguments, but the judge is not expected to give his decision until later this month.

Addressing a packed courtroom at the high-security Belmarsh Magistrates' Court, Assange's lawyer said it was "wrong" for Ny to claim it had been impossible to contact his client.

"On the 8th, 15th and 30th of September and on the 1st and 8th of October, I was in contact with her and offered that Julian could be interrogated in Sweden. I would even say I requested it."

Hurtig said that even after October 8, he proposed that Ny could interview Assange by other means.

"I suggested a telephone conversation, a videoconference, I suggested Skype, I suggested going to England for the hearing, I suggested that he should be able to give his version of the story in writing, I suggested that British police be allowed to interrogate Julian.

"But she said no to everything," Hurtig said.

Sven-Erik Alhem, a former Swedish prosecutor, told the court in evidence that there was no need to extradite Assange for interview because he could be questioned via videolink from Britain.

"I don't really understand why you could not hear Julian Assange here in this country, if the British authorities allowed such a hearing to take place," he said.

Alhem accused Swedish prosecutors of failing to follow "proper procedure" while investigating the rape claims, adding it was "quite peculiar" that authorities failed to get the WikiLeaks founder's version of events before seeking his arrest.

He also criticised the case on the grounds that Assange was identified, as rape suspects in Sweden should not be.

In legal papers quoted by lawyers for the Swedish authorities, Ny said she made repeated attempts in September and October to contact Assange by phone and text message to set up an interview in Sweden but had no success.

She was quoted as saying that Assange's lawyer offered a telephone interview but Ny declined and warned him that she was going to issue a warrant.

"It must have been crystal clear to Julian Assange since the arrest warrant of September 27 that we were extremely anxious to interview him," Ny said, according to evidence.

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt took issue with the description of his country's judiciary system presented by Assange's lawyers.

"It is unfortunate. We have an independent judiciary," Reinfeldt told reporters in Stockholm.

Assange's defence team argued on Monday that he would face a "flagrant denial of justice" if extradited.

After Monday's evidence, he claimed that a "black box" of accusations against him was being opened to inspection and the claims of rape were "empty".

His British lawyer Geoffrey Robertson is expected to argue that Assange could face the death penalty if extradited on from Sweden to the United States on separate charges relating to WikiLeaks.

Having won worldwide notoriety for his website's release of thousands of secret US diplomatic cables, Assange insists his real fear is that Washington will press Stockholm to pass him on to American authorities.

© 2011 AFP

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