LONDON (Reuters) - Ecuador’s ambassador to Britain is returning home to discuss whether to offer asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who sought refuge in the South American country’s London embassy, the embassy said on Saturday.
The Australian former computer hacker, who enraged Washington in 2010 when his WikiLeaks website published secret U.S. diplomatic cables, is wanted for questioning in Sweden over sex crime allegations.
Assange, who denies the claims, took refuge at Ecuador’s embassy in a surprise move last Tuesday, days after Britain’s Supreme Court said he could be extradited to Sweden in the coming weeks. Assange fears being sent on to the United States where he believes he could face charges punishable by death.
In his weekly television show on Saturday, Ecuador’s leftist President Rafael Correa said his government would make “a sovereign decision” on Assange’s application and that it would not bow to overseas pressure - though it would take Britain’s views into account.
Correa also expressed skepticism about the accusations that Assange faces in Sweden. “What Julian Assange had was mutually consensual sex with two adult women. The accusations are very doubtful, to say the least.”
The Ecuadorian embassy said in a statement on Saturday that ambassador Anna Alban had left Britain for talks in Quito earlier in the day.
“While in Ecuador she will be holding a series of meetings with officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before meeting President Correa to personally brief him on Mr Assange’s application for political asylum,” the embassy said.
“She will also fully brief the President on her recent meeting with officials of the UK Government,” it added.
British police have said Assange risks being arrested for breaching his bail terms if he emerges from the embassy, a five-storey red-brick building in the up market central London area of Knightsbridge.
Assange, instantly recognizable around the world for his shock of white hair, has argued that the case against him is politically motivated because the release of documents on his website angered the United States.
Neither Swedish nor U.S. authorities have charged Assange with anything. His critics say he should go to Sweden to answer the allegations of rape and sexual assault made in 2010 by two women, former WikiLeaks volunteers.
Assange spent nine days in jail in Britain after Sweden sought his extradition for questioning, before being released on bail in December 2010.
Reporting by David Milliken in London and Eduardo Garcia in Quito