If WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange needs a home, Ecuador’s deputy foreign minister said the Andean nation is happy to provide one.
The 39-year-old Australian, who has incensed and embarrassed Washington with the release by his online whistle-blowing organisation of hundreds of sensitive diplomatic cables, had sought residency and a work permit in Sweden.
But after the release by WikiLeaks beginning in late July of thousands of sensitive documents from the Iraq and Afghan wars, a Swedish court ordered him detained for questioning on sexual assault allegations – claims Mr Assange denies and calls part of a smear campaign.
Mr Assange, who keeps his whereabouts secret and moves around a lot, could also face legal complications at home. Australia’s attorney general said that it was studying whether he had broken any laws there.
In contrast to the potential hostility from US allies, leftist-run Ecuador provided Mr Assange with an invitation.
Deputy Foreign Minister Kintto Lucas said in audio posted online by the EcuadorInmediato news site that “we are open to giving him residence in Ecuador, without any kind of trouble and without any kind of conditions”. He continued: “We think it would be important not only to converse with him but to listen to him,” Mr Lucas added, saying Ecuador wanted to invite Mr Assange to “freely expound” and see what it’s like in “friendly countries”.
Mr Lucas also praised people like Mr Assange “who are constantly investigating and trying to get light out of the dark corners of (state) information”.
He went on to say Ecuador’s government was “very concerned” by revelations that US diplomats were involved in spying in the first of the more than 250,000 US diplomatic cables and directives that WikiLeaks has begun to release. WikLeaks said it has 1,621 cables that originated in the US Embassy in Quito. Their contents have not yet been disclosed.
Ecuador expelled two US diplomats in early 2009, accusing one of directing CIA operations in Ecuador and another of interfering in police affairs.
The government continues close counter-narcotics co-operation with the United States, but a year ago President Rafael Correa, a US-educated economist, refused to renew the lease on what had been Washington’s only base for counter-narcotics flights in South America, the Manta airfield. He said that if Washington would grant Ecuador an air base in Florida, he would be happy to host US flight operations.