LONDON (Reuters) - A former Swedish prosecutor called by the defense on Tuesday attacked his country’s handling of sex crimes allegations against WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange that could lead to his extradition to Sweden.
Sven-Erik Alhem, a former chief district prosecutor in Stockholm, told a British court considering a Swedish request to extradite Assange that Swedish prosecutors should have tried to question Assange in Britain before applying for his extradition.
The hearing did not finish in the two days set aside for it and lawyers will return on Friday to make closing statements.
Assange, a 39-year-old Australian computer expert who has infuriated the U.S. government by releasing thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables on his website, is wanted in Sweden to face allegations of sexual misconduct made by two WikiLeaks volunteers during a visit there last August.
Assange’s lawyers argue that he would not get a fair trial in Sweden and that being sent there could be a stepping stone to extradition to the United States, where they say he could end up facing execution for leaking secrets.
Alhem, called as an expert witness by Assange’s legal team, said Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny should have moved urgently to question Assange before he left Sweden last September 27.
“In my opinion she should ... have made sure that Assange was given the opportunity to give his version of the events in detail,” he said, speaking through an interpreter at the high-security Belmarsh magistrates’ court in southeast London.
In rare remarks concerning an ongoing court case, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt hit out at criticism, made during the hearing, of his country’s legal system.
“We have an independent legal system that is not governed by political decisions,” Reinfeldt told Swedish news channel TV4.
“What worries me is that they are trying to shy away from the fact that there exists allegations that are very serious...,” he added.
Lawyer Clare Montgomery, for the prosecution, said Ny’s account of her unsuccessful attempts to interview Assange in Sweden showed “a history of non-cooperation” by the Australian.
Outside court, Assange and his lawyer challenged Ny to come to London to testify at the hearing on Friday.
“We have seen the distortion of evidence and facts by the prosecuting authorities in Sweden revealed in minute detail throughout the day. What we have not seen, however, is the chief prosecutor in this case,” Assange said.
Bjorn Hurtig, Assange’s Swedish lawyer, another defense witness, told the court Ny had not given him all the evidence.
In written testimony, Hurtig said he had seen, but not been allowed to make copies of, text messages to and from Assange’s accusers indicating they expected to make money as a result of making the complaint, had discussed contacting the media and had made reference to “revenge.”
Assange’s lawyers accuse Swedish prosecutors of abusing the fast-track European arrest warrant because they only want to question Assange, not charge him.
But Ny told British prosecutors in a letter that the evidence so far suggested Assange should be indicted for rape and other alleged sexual offences.
Assange has been free under strict conditions since a British court released him on bail in December. The U.S. government is examining whether criminal charges can be brought against him over the diplomatic cables.
Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball, Mohammed Abbas, Adam Cox, Niklas Pollard in Stockholm; Editing by Tim Pearce