Canongate yesterday published the “unauthorized first draft” of Julian Assange’s autobiography without his consent, months after the WikiLeaks frontman withdrew from a nearly ￡1 million (US$1.57 million) contract for his memoirs.
In a dramatic move, Canongate has defied Assange’s wishes and secretly printed thousands of copies of Julian Assange: The Unauthorised Autobiography, with the book being shipped amid strict security to booksellers in preparation for imminent release. The enormous security operation was put in place by the publishers, according to a source, to stop the author blocking publication.
Assange signed a high-profile deal, reportedly worth a total of ￡930,000, with the Edinburgh-based publisher and the US firm Alfred A. Knopf in December. The manuscript was subsequently sold in more than 35 countries. Assange said at the time that he believed the book would become “one of the unifying documents of our generation.”
However, after seeing a first draft in March, Assange told his publishers that he no longer intended to write the book, believing it could give ammunition to US prosecutors seeking his extradition over possible espionage charges relating to the WikiLeaks cable release.
He formally withdrew from his contract on June 7 and since then the Australian and his publisher have been locked in a bitter dispute over the contract and his ￡500,000 advance, which he has not returned. Assange, requiring funds for his legal fight against extradition to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault, had placed the advance in escrow, meaning that his former legal team have first claim on any assets.
The Independent, which palns to serialize the book, starting yesterday, said Andrew O’Hagan, Assange’s ghostwriter, had asked for his name to be removed from the book. The paper said that Canongate, faced with a financial crisis, gave Assange two months to work on the manuscript and, finally, a 12-day window to seek an injunction, which expired on Monday. Assange has not sought to block the book.
Assange did not respond to requests for comment, but according to a source close to him, he was aware the publisher had plans to release the draft manuscript, and would have liked to have prevented it, “but the manner in which this has happened has reduced his options to do so. The book is not in a form that Julian ever expected or believed should be published, and certainly he’s concerned that it isn’t something that he has properly read through and checked.”
Neither O’Hagan nor Assange’s current or former lawyers were available for comment.
The Independent says Assange writes in the book of Swedish allegations that he had been warned by a source in an unnamed intelligence agency that the US government was planning to set him up.
Speaking of the two women who accused him of assault, he said: “The international situation had me in its grip, and although I had spent time with these women, I wasn’t paying enough attention to them, or ringing them back, or able to step out of the zone that came down with all these threats and statements against me in America. I wasn’t a reliable boyfriend, or even a very courteous sleeping partner, and this began to figure. Unless, of course, the agenda had been rigged from the start.”
The book also contains what the Independent describes as “prolonged and bitter rants” against former media partners, including the Guardian.