Filing reveals Assange has been charged

Stephanie Baker

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been charged by federal prosecutors in Virginia in a move that suggests the U.S. government is determined to pursue his extradition, according to an inadvertent filing in an unrelated court case.

It’s unclear what Assange, who’s been living in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since 2012, has been charged with. The existence of the charges was revealed in an August filing unsealed this month and confirmed Friday by a person familiar with the matter. The document begins with arguments related to the correct case, then picks up abruptly on the second page, saying “no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kellen S. Dwyer continued on a third page, saying the matter “would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter.”

Assange, 47, has been under investigation ever since WikiLeaks published thousands of classified government documents, including diplomatic cables and military documents, starting in 2010. He’s also come under scrutiny by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller amid probes into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. In 2016, WikiLeaks published emails from the Democratic National Committee that had been hacked by Russian intelligence.

“WikiLeaks has never been contacted by anyone from his office,” the organization said in a statement on Twitter, referring to the special counsel.

“The U.S. is seeking to prosecute a foreign publisher for publishing truthful information,” Assange’s U.K. lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, said. “This sets a dangerous and chilling precedent for all media organizations – in the U.S. and elsewhere. Serious questions must be asked of the British government: will it extradite a publisher to face prosecution in the U.S.? What precedent will this set for other countries like Russia, China and Saudi Arabia?”

The charges were mistakenly disclosed in a case against a man named Seitu Sulayman Kokayi, who is charged with coercing and enticing an underage person in sexual activity.

“The filing was made in error, and Assange’s name was not intended to be included,’’ said Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Virginia.

The filing error was revealed on Twitter by Seamus Hughes, an expert on terrorism at George Washington University, who is known for closely monitoring court cases.

Assange, who became an Ecuadorian citizen in December, has been fighting Ecuador’s Foreign Affairs Ministry which has imposed restrictions on him during his stay at the embassy, including rules barring him from commenting on politics and requiring him to clear any visitors three days in advance.

He sought refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faced allegations of rape, or the U.S. where he has feared facing trial for publishing the thousands of secret government documents in 2010. Sweden dropped the case in 2017, with the prosecutor saying they hadn’t been able to investigate the allegations because of his refusal to answer questions.

Assange still faces likely arrest by London police should he leave the embassy for jumping bail when he refused to be extradited to Sweden for the rape case. A U.K. judge said in February in refusing to drop the 2012 arrest warrant that “he’s a man who wants to impose his terms on the course of justice.”

With assistance from David Voreacos.