Assange lawyer says Sweden acted improperly

By Jill Lawless

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 8 2011 7:40 a.m. MST

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, second left, arrives with his lawyer Jennifer Robinson, second right, and other associates at Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in London, Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2011. The lawyer for Julian Assange has argued that the embattled WikiLeaks founder will face a secret trial that violates international standards of fairness if sent to Sweden to face sexual assault allegations.

Matt Dunham, Associated Press

LONDON — A lawyer for Julian Assange and a Swedish legal expert on Tuesday accused prosecutors in Sweden of irregularities and illegality in the way they built a sex crimes case against the WikiLeaks founder.

Assange's Swedish lawyer, Bjorn Hurtig, said an initial prosecutor "acted against the laws of confidentiality, telling one of our tabloid newspapers that Julian was suspected of rape." He said prosecutors and police had leaked details of the case to the media.

Assange is fighting extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over claims of rape and sexual molestation made by two women. His lawyers argue that the global publicity around the case and the Swedish custom of hearing rape cases behind closed doors mean he would not get a fair trial.

His attorney, Geoffrey Robertson, told an extradition hearing Monday that closed-door hearings would be "a flagrant denial of justice."

Sven-Erik Alhem, a former chief prosecutor in Sweden appearing as a defense witness, said prosecutor Marianne Ny "should have made sure Assange was able to give his version of events in detail" before issuing an arrest warrant. Alhem also said it was "extraordinary" that a prosecutor had leaked Assange's name to the media.

Assange's lawyers say prosecutors have rebuffed his offer to be questioned from London about the allegations, which he denies.

But the British lawyer representing Sweden, Clare Montgomery, said Ny had issued an arrest warrant for Assange only after making repeated unsuccessful attempts to arrange an interview with him.

In a court document read aloud by Montgomery, Ny said that "it must have been crystal clear to Julian Assange ... that we were extremely anxious to interview him."

But, Ny said, an interview could not be set up and at one point Assange's Swedish lawyer, Hurtig, was unable to contact him for several days. Ny said given this background, "We consider Julian Assange is an obvious flight risk and it cannot be considered an overreaction to detain him."

Assange is accused of sexually assaulting one woman and raping another by having sex with her while she was asleep during a weeklong visit to Stockholm in August. In Swedish law, sex with a person who is asleep can constitute rape.

The defense says Assange had consensual sex with his two accusers and has not committed any crime.

In a written statement to court, Hurtig said "the case is one of the weakest I have ever seen in my professional career."

Assange's wide-ranging arguments against extradition range from criticism of Ny to claims that he could eventually be extradited from Sweden to the United States, and even sent to the detention center at the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

However, Alhem appeared to undermine the defense claim that Assange could be extradited when he said that it was not possible for Assange to be sent from Sweden to the U.S. on the current European Arrest Warrant. He also said it was "completely impossible that Mr. Assange could be extradited to the United States without a complete media storm."

Alhem said that, contrary to claims by Assange's lawyers, Ny does have the authority to issue an arrest warrant for the 39-year-old Australian.

Tension ran high between the legal teams, with Montgomery at one point asking Assange lawyer Mark Stephens to be quiet.

Assange, wearing a blue suit, sat calmly and took notes while in the dock at London's high-security Belmarsh Magistrates' Court on the second day of a two-day hearing.

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