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Lawyer for WikiLeaks's Assange denies warrant valid

LONDON/STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - The lawyer acting for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange denied on Thursday that Sweden had issued a valid European arrest warrant for alleged sex crimes, despite Stockholm’s insistence that legal difficulties with the warrant were resolved.

Swedish police said earlier that technical problems hindering the arrest of the 39-year-old Australian had been ironed out, and a newspaper report said he was in Britain.

But in an interview with Reuters, his London lawyer, Mark Stephens, who would not divulge his whereabouts because of death threats against him, said no warrant valid under Swedish, European or international law had been issued.

“There is no arrest warrant against him. There was an Interpol red notice, which is not a warrant, alerting authorities to monitor his movements,” Stephens told Reuters.

“The arrest warrant was sent back by Scotland Yard (London police headquarters) because it did not comply with the law and was defective.”

Assange spends much of his time in Sweden, and earlier this year was accused of sexual misconduct by two Swedish women. Swedish prosecutors opened, then dropped, then re-opened an investigation into the allegations.

Sweden has authorized a warrant for his arrest on suspicion of sexual misconduct. But Assange has not been formally charged with any crime in Sweden. He denies any wrongdoing and said in August he had been warned by Australian intelligence of plans to discredit his website, which aims to expose governments and corporations through the leaking of documents not previously public.

Claes Borgstrom, an attorney for the two women, told NBC News in an interview that suggestions the allegations were part of a dirty tricks campaign were “nonsense.”

Borgstrom said the allegations came from two incidents in August that were days apart and involved young women who were Wikileaks volunteers but did not know each other at the time.

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“They have been abused. They have gone to the police, in the same way as unfortunately thousands of women do every year,” Borgstrom said.

Stephens said his client had not been informed of the allegations or shown any evidence against him. He said Assange would be happy to meet Swedish prosecutors but they had not wanted to meet him.

“We are in this position where we have never been told what the allegations are against him, we do know that he hasn’t been charged, we do know that he has only been asked for as a witness,” he said.

The Independent newspaper said Assange had arrived in Britain in October, and had given police his contact details. It cited police sources who said they knew where Assange was staying. He is believed to be in southeast England, it said.

TECHNICAL PROBLEMS

In Sweden, Assange’s efforts to have an arrest order quashed met defeat when the High Court declined to hear the case.

“The High Court has not granted a leave to appeal, so the Svea Court of Appeals ruling still stands,” High Court official Kerstin Norman told Reuters. The Svea Court of Appeals is one of six courts of appeal and covers the Stockholm area.

The Independent, citing unnamed sources, said Britain’s Serious Organized Crime Agency, or Soca, needed clarification about the European Arrest Warrant issued by Swedish prosecutors before British police could arrest Assange.

Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, which has made public about 500,000 classified U.S. files on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, holds a news conference at the Geneva Press Club in Geneva, November 4, 2010. REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud

The Metropolitan Police and Soca declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.

Tommy Kangasvieri, head of the international unit at the Swedish National Police force, said the problem over the arrest warrant had been solved.

“We have sorted this out and it will be completed during the day,” he said, adding that Swedish police had not received any official word that Assange was in Britain.

Swedish Prosecution Office spokeswoman Helena Ekstrand said the office had received no information on Assange’s location. “The arrest warrant still stands and we are looking for Julian Assange,” she said.

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, interviewed by BBC Radio 4, said Assange had failed to cooperate with a U.S. investigation into the leak.

“We’ve made clear in an exchange this weekend with Mr. Assange the fact that he is in possession of classified material of the United States government, it’s stolen property and we have asked him to return it. He has declined to do that and we would investigate the implications of this.”

Additional reporting by Adrian Croft, Michael Holden, Michel Rose and David Morgan; Editing by Tim Pearce and Peter Cooney

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