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Key emails destroyed in Julian Assange case, admit UK prosecutors

Key emails relating to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange have reportedly been destroyed

10 November 2017, 4:33pm
Julian Assange (Photo: USA Today)
Julian Assange (Photo: USA Today)
The Crown Prosecution Service is facing embarrassment after admitting it destroyed key emails relating to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is in Ecuador’s London embassy, fighting extradition.

Email exchanges between the CPS and its Swedish counterparts over the high-profile case were deleted after the lawyer, on the UK end retired in 2014.

The destruction of potentially sensitive and revealing information comes ahead of a tribunal hearing in London next week.

It emerged that the CPS lawyer involved had, unaccountably, advised the Swedes in 2010 or 2011 not to visit London to interview Assange.

The CPS denied that there were any legal implications of the data loss for an Assange case, if it were to come to court in the future. Asked if the CPS had any idea what was destroyed, a spokesperson said: “We have no way of knowing the content of email accounts once they have been deleted.”

Assange, whose WikiLeaks has been involved in a series of controversial leaks that include the Iraq war logs, US state department cables and Democratic party emails, was wanted by Sweden as part of a preliminary investigation into rape allegations. Sweden dropped the investigation back in May.

Detractors of Assange, who sought refuge in Ecuador’s embassy in 2012, accused him of collaborating with Russian propagandists in undermining Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency and helping Donald Trump secure it.

The US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, said that this year, Assange was a priority for the justice department and US federal prosecutors are believed to be considering charges against him over the leaks.

The CPS data destruction was disclosed in a freedom of information (FOI) case being pursued by Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi.

Maurizi, a reporter on La Repubblica, who has been on the WikiLeaks case since 2009, has been pressing both the CPS and its Swedish counterpart for information relating to Assange and extradition.

Claiming that the material released so far is limited, she is taking her case against the CPS to an information tribunal on Monday and Tuesday.

“It is incredible to me these records about an ongoing and high-profile case have been destroyed. I think they have something to hide,” Maurizi said.

She is keen to establish how much influence the UK had in the decision of the Swedish authorities at the time not to travel to London to interview Assange. She is also looking for evidence of US involvement in extradition moves.

Two years ago, through an FOI request to the Swedish prosecutors, she discovered an email from a lawyer in the CPS extradition unit on 25 January 2011, saying: “My earlier advice remains, that in my view it would not be prudent for the Swedish authorities to try to interview the defendant in the UK.”

The sentence was redacted in the email obtained by Maurizi from the CPS under an FOI request but not when it was released under an FOI request from the Swedish prosecutors.

Assange declined to travel to Sweden at the time, expressing fear that it was a ruse that could pave the way for his extradition to the US. His lawyers offered a compromise in which Swedish investigators could interview him in person in London or by a video link, but the Swedish authorities did not take up the offer at the time.

A legal manager at the CPS, Mohammed Cheema, who has been dealing with the FOI requests, said, in a lengthy witness statement in August this year, that the Assange case file comprises mainly 55 lever-arch files, one A4 file and a selection of other paper files.