Extradition edges closer for WikiLeaks' Assange
LONDON (Reuters) - WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange could be extradited to Sweden in two weeks' time to face questioning over alleged sex crimes after Britain's top court said on Thursday it had rejected a legal bid to reconsider his case.
The decision ended the self-styled anti-secrecy campaigner's 18-month legal battle against extradition in the British courts, and now only a possible appeal to a European Court stands in the way of his transfer.
Two weeks ago, Britain's Supreme Court rejected his argument that a European arrest warrant issued by Swedish prosecutors for his extradition was invalid.
However, his lawyers argued some of the judges had reached their decision based on a legal point that they had not had a chance to counter and asked for the appeal to be reopened.
After considering their challenge, the court announced all seven judges had rejected the application.
"The court has ordered that, with the agreement of the respondent ... the required period for extradition shall not commence until the 14th day after today," it said in a statement.
Sweden's Prosecution Authority said in a statement the ruling meant Assange would be transported to the Nordic state within 10 days of the end of the 14-day period.
A court hearing would be held within four days of his arrival in Sweden to determine if he should be held in detention, a decision which could be appealed, it said.
Assange, who has not been charged with any offences in Sweden and denies any wrongdoing, has argued that the case is politically motivated because the actions of his website have angered the United States.
The flamboyant Australian, 40, could still take his case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), a move which could potentially hold up the extradition.
His lawyer was not immediately available for comment.
"Of course this is a disappointment. He is now considering his options," said WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson, adding he did not know if an appeal would be made to the ECHR.
"That's something he is discussing with his lawyers at the moment," he told Reuters.
On its Twitter account, WikiLeaks seemed resigned to his extradition. "Assange to be extradited: Donate to defense fund," it said.
Swedish prosecutors want to question Assange over allegations of rape and sexual assault made by two female former WikiLeaks volunteers.
He has been fighting to prevent extradition since he was arrested in Britain in December 2010.
The former computer hacker gained international prominence in 2010 when WikiLeaks began releasing secret video footage and thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables, many of them about Iraq and Afghanistan, in the largest leak of classified documents in U.S. history.
That made him a hero to anti-censorship campaigners, but Washington was furious about the release of classified documents.
WikiLeaks has since faded from the headlines due to a dearth of scoops and a blockade by credit card companies that has made donations to the site almost impossible. Assange's personal standing has been damaged by the Swedish sex case and he has lost support from most of his celebrity backers.
(Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Andrew Heavens)