Sat, Aug 18, 2012 - Page 7 News List

ANALYSIS: WikiLeaks’ Assange stuck in embassy amid stalemate

WEB OF INTRIGUE:Julian Assange has been granted asylum by the Ecuadorian authorities, but his future is far from certain and police could nab him when he leaves


It is an impasse: Ecuador on Thursday granted asylum to Julian Assange, but Britain says it still intends to arrest the WikiLeaks chief the moment he steps out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London and extradite him to Sweden for questioning about alleged sexual assaults.

Is there any way out for Assange? Any way he could elude British officials and make it to Ecuador? Some supporters want Assange to be granted Ecuadorean citizenship and made a member of the embassy staff, so that he would be protected by diplomatic immunity, but diplomatic status must be recognized by the host government, something the British government is exceedingly unlikely to do.

Legal expert Carl Gardner has raised another long-shot possibility — Ecuador could name Assange its representative to the UN. That would make him immune from arrest while traveling to UN meetings around the world. Assange could be stripped of his role as representative by the UN General Assembly, but in the meantime would be protected.

London police have been stationed outside the embassy building since Assange holed up there in June. He could try to sneak past them in disguise, perhaps trying to lose pursuers in the aisles of the nearby upmarket Harrods department store, but he would be liable to arrest if identified.

Spiriting him to a private airfield or secluded port seems like an option, but legal experts say police will be vigilant for escape attempts.

“As soon as he steps off the premises, even if he goes through an embassy car, he can still be arrested — and will be,” extradition lawyer Julian Knowles said.

What about smuggling Assange out of the embassy in a diplomatic pouch? As far-fetched as it sounds, it is not without precedent.

In 1984, Britain refused to extradite Umaru Dikko, a former Nigerian government minister accused of corruption in his homeland. He was subsequently kidnapped outside his London home, drugged and stuffed in a shipping crate destined for Lagos as diplomatic luggage.

However, the kidnappers made a crucial error: They did not label the box a diplomatic bag. British Customs officials opened the crate at Stansted Airport and found Dikko, who was uninjured. Three Israelis and a Nigerian were convicted over the incident, which soured UK-Nigerian diplomatic relations for several years.

In 1964, a man named Joseph Dahan — who turned out to be Mordechai Louk, a Moroccan-born Israeli spying for Egypt — was abducted from a cafe in Rome, drugged and placed in a trunk marked “diplomatic mail” addressed to the Egyptian foreign ministry. Italian authorities discovered the plot when an airport guard heard moaning coming from inside the trunk.

Lawyer Alex Carlile said a diplomatic bag would have to go through a British airport or seaport and if customs officials suspected it did not contain “legitimate diplomatic material,” they would be within their rights to open it.

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