Wikileaks founder Julian Assange takes his seat during a press conference in Geneva, Nov. 4. Photo: Keystone, Martial Trezzini/AP
The international police organization Interpol has issued a Red Notice for the arrest of WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange, in connection with a sex crime investigation in Sweden.
A Red Notice is kind of international wanted poster seeking the provisional arrest of a fugitive, with an eye towards extradition to the nation that issued the underlying arrest warrant. Interpol transmits the notices to its 188 member countries, including Britain, where Assange is believed to be located. Interpol has no authority to compel a subject’s arrest. It issued 5,020 Red Notice last year for a variety of crimes.
A terse extract of Assange’s notice appeared on Interpol’s website Tuesday, without a photograph, reporting that the 39-year-old Australian is wanted for “sex crimes” by the International Public Prosecution Office in Gothenburg, Sweden.
A Swedish judge on Nov. 18 ordered Assange “detained in absentia” to answer questions in a rape, coercion and molestation investigation in Stockholm. A court approved an international arrest warrant for the ex-hacker two days later, at which point Sweden reportedly applied to Interpol for the Red Notice. Assange’s lawyer appealed the detention order to the Svea Court of Appeal, but lost. Assange filed a new appeal Tuesday to the Swedish Supreme Court.
The investigation stems from separate encounters Assange had with two women during his August visit to Sweden, where he was applying for Swedish residency and attempting to secure the protection of Swedish free-press laws for his secret-spilling website. According to local news reports, the women told investigators the sexual encounters began as consensual, but turned non-consensual. One woman said Assange ignored her appeals to stop when the condom broke.
Assange has denied any wrongdoing, and hinted that the complaints are the result of a U.S. “smear campaign” targeting WikiLeaks — leading some supporters of the group to publicly investigate the two women and their families.
After the investigation began, Assange left Sweden with the permission of the government, and then turned up in London in October, where he unveiled nearly 400,000 leaked U.S. Army documents from the Iraq war.
On Sunday, he outraged top U.S. officials and sent shock waves through the world of global diplomacy when he began rolling out a leak of a quarter-million U.S. State Department diplomatic cables that revealed the private views of U.S. diplomats towards foreign leaders around the world.
The Obama administration is exploring possible criminal charges against Assange under the Espionage Act, The Washington Post reported Monday — in what would be a virtually unprecedented move against a journalistic organization.
In a statement earlier this month, Assange’s British counsel said that his client repeatedly offered to cooperate with local investigators while he was in Sweden, and has offered to answer questions remotely from Britain since then.
“All of these offers have been flatly refused by a prosecutor who is abusing her powers by insisting that he return to Sweden at his own expense to be subjected to another media circus that she will orchestrate,” wrote attorney Mark Stephens. “Pursuing a warrant in this circumstance is entirely unnecessary and disproportionate.”