The president of Ecuador has accused Julian Assange of using its embassy in London as a “center for spying.”
In an interview with the Guardian, Lenín Moreno expressed frustration with the WikiLeaks founder, who had been provided asylum by Ecuador since 2012. On Thursday, the country revoked that asylum, leading to Assange’s arrest by British police on a U.S. hacking charge. This follows Moreno’s initial public address the same day, which explained that Assange was being kicked out for his behavior and for violating the terms of his asylum.
“We cannot allow our house, the house that opened its doors, to become a center for spying,” Moreno told the Guardian. “This activity violates asylum conditions. Our decision is not arbitrary but is based on international law.”
The allegations appear to stem in part from a batch of leaked personal photos of Moreno and his family that appeared last month on an anonymous website, while the president was in the midst of a political battle at home. Moreno blamed WikiLeaks for the release of the photos, The New York Times reported.
Moreno also cited WikiLeaks’ dump of a tranche of Vatican documents in January.
A set of anonymous documents known as the INA Papers also was released this year, the Daily Beast reports, and alleged that Moreno benefited from a corrupt deal with a Chinese firm. WikiLeaks has denied involvement with the anonymous site or the hacking, but the anti-secrecy group did direct its followers to the documents in a March 25 tweet that said a corruption investigation had been opened into Moreno’s conduct.
“Any attempt to destabilize is a reprehensible act for Ecuador, because we are a sovereign nation and respectful of the politics of each country,” he told the Guardian. Before evicting Assange, Moreno said he sought assurances from Britain that Assange would not “suffer torture, ill treatment or the death penalty” were he to be taken into custody or extradited to another country.
He also claimed that Assange had taxed his host’s patience. Moreno said he “mistreated our officials in the Ecuadoran embassy in London” and that his “improper hygienic behavior” affected the climate at the diplomatic outpost.
Assange’s attorney, Jennifer Robinson, said in an interview on Sky News that Moreno’s claims were “not true.”
“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 said.
Robinson had previously called her client’s arrest “a dangerous precedent for all news media.”
Moreno’s predecessor, Rafael Correa, called the decision to release Assange to authorities a “crime that humanity will never forget.” Correa had granted Assange asylum in 2012.
Assange has been charged by U.S. prosecutors on suspicion of conspiring with Chelsea Manning to obtain secret military and diplomatic documents, The Washington Post reported last week. However, Assange’s extradition to the United States could take years.
It’s the latest chapter in a nearly decade-long legal saga for Assange. He brought himself and WikiLeaks to prominence in 2010, when the organization published leaks from Manning, who was convicted in 2013 for the leaks.
But that same year, Swedish authorities issued an arrest warrant for Assange over two allegations of sexual assault, which he has always denied (Swedish authorities later dropped the investigations). Assange traveled to Britain, where a court ruled in 2012 to extradite him to Sweden. But he jumped bail and entered the Ecuadoran Embassy in London, where he was granted asylum later that year.
He had been confined to the embassy until his arrest last week.