New bid to kick Assange out of embassy
BRITAIN is in high-level talks with Ecuador to evict Julian Assange from the country's London embassy, it was reported yesterday.
Ministers and senior Foreign Office officials are said to be locked in discussions over the fate of the founder and editor of WikiLeaks, who has been sheltering in the Ecuador embassy in Knightsbridge for more than six years, costing taxpayers millions of pounds.
Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan is understood to be involved in the talks, which come weeks before a visit to the UK by new Ecuador president Lenin Moreno, who says Mr Assange is a 'hacker', an 'inherited problem' and a 'stone in the shoe'.
Sources close to Mr Assange told The Sunday Times that he fears America is exerting 'significant pressure' on Ecuador, including threatening to block a loan from the International Monetary Fund if he is not removed from the embassy.
The Australian man, who claimed political asylum in 2012, believes he will be extradited to the United States if he leaves the embassy.
His stay has cost Ecuador more than £3.7 million after a top-level intelligence operation was established to monitor the activities of Scotland Yard, visitors and Mr Assange himself.
The Metropolitan Police spent more than £12 million guarding the embassy around the clock until 2015, when officers were pulled out.
Mr Moreno's predecessor, Rafael Correa, granted Mr Assange political asylum when he fled to the embassy soon after being accused of sexual assault and rape in Sweden.
Mr Assange managed to convince Ecuador that the accusations were an elaborate plot orchestrated by the US government, which has been embarrassed by various disclosures on WikiLeaks.
He has remained in the building ever since, making his home in cramped quarters with the aid of a running machine and sun lamp.
But since then, Mr Assange has fallen out with the Moreno administration, which has cut off his internet access, installed jammers and banned visitors apart from his lawyers.
Ecuador has even considered appointing Mr Assange to the United Nations in a desperate bid to get him out, according to documents from Ecuador's intelligence agency Senain obtained by The Guardian.
Officials believed the move would give him diplomatic immunity and enable him to escape without arrest. Last month two officials from the Australian High Commission paid a first visit in six years to the embassy in a signal that there may be a breakthrough in the stalemate.