The government of Ecuador, whose embassy in London has served as a refuge from UK authorities for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange since 2012, has been growing weary of their guest for quite some time. According to a Friday report from Reuters, it even went so far as to try and name him to a diplomatic position in Russia but backed down after Britain refused to grant Assange diplomatic immunity.
According to Reuters, the failed attempt suggests that Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno reached out to Russian officials in order to arrange his exodus—something that may raise eyebrows, given that U.S. intelligence officials have accused Wikileaks of publishing Democratic Party emails allegedly stolen by Russian hackers before the 2016 elections. Reuters wrote that the attempt to shuttle Assange off to Russia was revealed in a letter between the embassy and Ecuadorean opposition legislator Paola Vintimilla, who does not seem to like him very much:
Ecuador last Dec. 19 approved a “special designation in favor of Mr. Julian Assange so that he can carry out functions at the Ecuadorean Embassy in Russia,” according to the letter written to opposition legislator Paola Vintimilla.
“Special designation” refers to the Ecuadorean president’s right to name political allies to a fixed number of diplomatic posts even if they are not career diplomats.
But Britain’s Foreign Office in a Dec. 21 note said it did not accept Assange as a diplomat and that it did not “consider that Mr. Assange enjoys any type of privileges and immunities under the Vienna Convention,” reads the letter, citing a British diplomatic note.
In preparation to become an Ecuadorean diplomatic official, Reuters added, Assange penned a letter retracting his request for political asylum that Vintimilla insists means the Wikileaks founder should be kicked out of the embassy.
While Wikileaks published the stolen emails (including ones from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign), Assange has vehemently denied he received them from Russians or that he colluded with the country’s intelligence services.
Officially, UK authorities are seeking to capture Assange for breach of bail conditions imposed over since-dropped charges of sexual assault in Sweden. Though his health is reportedly in decline after years locked in the embassy (and his mental state questionable), Assange’s legal team say that UK police are in reality simply trying to scoop him up so he can be sent to the US, where top officials have made no secret of wanting his head on a platter.
The Associated Press reported earlier this month that Assange had sought a Russian visa as early as 2010; it’s unclear whether he actually received one, though if he did it came too late to allow his escape from the UK. Even making it to Russia would have its own risks; fellow whistleblower Edward Snowden, who leaked a cache of National Security Agency documents in 2013, has sometimes been described as living freely there only at the whims of the Kremlin.
Vintimilla has been pressing for the Ecuadorean government, however, to stop shielding Assange even if it results in him being extradited to the U.S. to stand trial on unspecified criminal charges. Ars Technica wrote:
Vintimillia said at a press conference (Spanish) in Quito on Thursday that Assange’s citizenship should be rescinded. She also said that it is not clear precisely what legal status Assange has, as he appears to have withdrawn his asylum claim as of December 4, 2017, just eight days prior to his being granted citizenship.
“At this moment, what is Assange’s status?” she said. “He’s an Ecuadorian living in the London embassy and we’re paying for this?”
Vintimilla also noted that Assange’s naturalization documents “mysteriously” lack the signature of then-Foreign Minister María Espinosa.
It seems increasingly unlikely under the mounting pressure that Assange can remain holed up in that embassy for very long, though prior reports the axe was about to drop have failed to pan out.