August 10, 2015 / 3:25 PM / 4 years ago

Ecuador denies Swedish asylum is condition for Assange questioning

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Ecuador denied on Monday that it had requested Sweden grant asylum for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as a condition for allowing Swedish prosecutors to question him in London.

A supporter of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange holds a placard with his mouth during a gathering outside the Ecuador embassy in London, Britain June 19, 2015. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

“At no point has the Republic of Ecuador asked the Kingdom of Sweden to grant Mr. Assange asylum,” the embassy said in a statement.

Sweden says any questioning has been stalled since asylum has been one of Ecuador’s demands for the meeting, adding that such a demand would be “against international law”.

“That’s how we have interpreted it - we must recognize the asylum status they have given him,” said Cecilia Riddselius, a senior official at the Justice Department. “It seems like we have different opinions.”

Assange took refuge in the embassy building in June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over allegations of sexual assault and rape against two women in 2010. He denies the accusations.

Assange says he fears Sweden will extradite him to the United States where he could be put on trial over WikiLeaks’ publication of classified military and diplomatic documents five years ago, one of the largest information leaks in U.S. history.

Prosecutors first insisted Assange should travel to Sweden for questioning, but in a U-turn in March agreed to conduct the interview in London.

In early June, prosecutors submitted a request for legal assistance to British authorities and a request to Ecuador for permission to interview Assange.

Riddselius said the Justice Department last week sent a letter to Ecuador embassy saying what they are prepared to do to in order for the questioning to take place.

“Now, we’re waiting for a reply,” she said.

The Ecuadorian embassy also said in its statement that no representative from Sweden has turned up on their steps to interview Assange.

Karin Rosander, spokeswoman for Swedish Prosecution Authority, said a prosecutor had been to London in June, ready to question the Australian, but lacking necessary permissions, she had to return home without visiting the embassy.

Reporting by Johan Sennero; Editing by Alistair Scrutton

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