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WikiLeaks founder’s legal options dwindle

By Raphael G. Satter and Malin Rising
Associated Press / December 3, 2010

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LONDON — The law is closing in on Julian Assange. Swedish authorities won a court ruling yesterday in their bid to arrest the WikiLeaks founder for questioning in a rape case, British intelligence is said to know where in England he’s hiding, and US pundits and politicians are demanding he be hunted down or worse.

The former computer hacker who has embarrassed the US government and foreign leaders with his online release of a huge trove of secret American diplomatic cables suffered a legal setback when Sweden’s Supreme Court upheld an order to detain him — a move that could lead to his extradition.

Meanwhile, Assange continues to leak sensitive documents. Newly posted cables on WikiLeaks’ website detailed a host of embarrassing disclosures, including allegations that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy accepted kickbacks, and a deeply unflattering assessment of Turkmenistan’s president.

Assange is accused in Sweden of rape, sexual molestation, and coercion in a case from August, and Swedish officials have alerted Interpol and issued a European arrest warrant to bring him in for questioning.

The 39-year-old Australian denies the charges, which his lawyer, Mark Stephens, said apparently stemmed from a “dispute over consensual but unprotected sex.’’

While Assange has not made a public appearance for nearly a month, his lawyer insisted authorities know where to find him. “Both the British and the Swedish authorities know how to contact him, and the security services know exactly where he is,’’ Stephens told Associated Press.

It was unclear if or when police would act on Sweden’s demands. Swedish police acknowledged yesterday they would have to refile their European arrest warrant after British authorities asked for more details on the maximum penalties for the three alleged crimes. Scotland Yard declined to comment, as did the agency responsible for processing European arrest warrants for suspects in England — where The Guardian asserts Assange is hiding out.

WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson said late Wednesday that the organization is trying to keep Assange’s location a secret for security reasons. He noted that commentators in the United States and Canada have called for Assange to be hunted down or killed.

“I think Assange should be assassinated, actually,’’ Tom Flanagan, a former adviser to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, told the CBC. “I think Obama should put out a contract or maybe use a drone or something.’’ Flanagan, a US-born professor of political science at the University of Calgary, apologized.

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