US Ambassador to Australia Caroline Kennedy has hinted at a possible deal to allow Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to return to Australia.
Mr Assange has been facing extradition to the US on spying charges for more than a decade and claimed sanctuary in London’s Ecuadorian Embassy for seven years.
But now ambassador Kennedy has said a solution could be in the pipeline to end the long-running saga.
US Ambassador to Australia Caroline Kennedy has hinted at a possible deal to allow Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to return to Australia
Julian Assange has been facing extradition to the US on spying charges for more than a decade and claimed sanctuary in the Ecuadorian Embassy for seven years
‘It’s not really a diplomatic issue, but I think that there absolutely could be a resolution,’ she has told the Sydney Morning Herald.
‘There is a way to resolve it’.
But she stressed any potential agreement was ‘up to the Justice Department’.
Mr Assange has been fighting the British legal system for years to avoid being sent to the US, where he faces 17 charges of espionage and one charge of computer misuse over WikiLeaks’ publication of classified diplomatic and military documents.
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The charge relate to the massive data release of top secret military information by US serviceman whistleblower Chelsea Manning in the 2010 Cablegate scandal.
Quarter of a million politically embarrassing and military-sensitive US diplomatic cables were released on Mr Assange’s Wikileaks site.
The leak sparked a criminal investigation into Wikileaks and Mr Assange, who was simultaneously accused of sexually assaulting two women in Sweden, which he denied and the charges were later dropped in 2019.
It began a 13 year battle against extradition from the UK, first to Sweden to face trial on the sexual assault charges but also against him then being extradited to the US.
Last month US Secretary of State Antony Blinken insisted Mr Assange still needed to face court to answer the charges against him.
‘Mr Assange was charged with very serious criminal conduct in the United States in connection with his alleged role in one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of our country,’ he said.
But now Ambassador Kennedy has raised hopes of a possible alternative solution after she met supporters of the Wikileaks founder in June.
‘It’s an ongoing case,’ she told the Sydney Morning Herald.
She said any possible plea deal would be ‘up to the Justice Department.’
But she emphasised there was a way to resolve it and added: ‘You can read the [newspapers] just like I can.’
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange greets supporters in 2017 outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London
Australia’s ambassador to the US Kevin Rudd (far right, pictured with US Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and foreign minister Penny Wong) said the pursuit of Mr Assange had ‘gone on too long.’
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is due to fly to the US to meet with the Biden administration in late October, just as Mr Assange’s legal options in the UK are set to finally run out.
His supporters have taken the comments from ambassador Kennedy as a sign a possible deal is in the works.
‘Caroline Kennedy wouldn’t be saying these things if they didn’t want a way out,’ Assange’s brother Gabriel Shipton told the SMH.
‘The Americans want this off their plate.’
The deal could still require Mr Assange to fly to the US to face court there before he could be allowed to return to Australia to serve any sentence.
He has already been imprisoned for four years in the UK since he was forced to leave the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2019 which may also be used as a mitigating factor.
His supporters hope he can now face downgraded charges in return for a guilty plea and the time served in the UK count towards his punishment.
However legal experts have warned Mr Assange may yet still refuse to willingly go to the US to face justice, with his family warning he may kill himself rather than travel there.
‘Everything we know about Julian Assange suggests this would be a significant sticking point for him,’ Australian National University international law expert Don Rothwell said.
‘[But] it’s not possible to strike a plea deal outside the relevant jurisdiction except in the most exceptional circumstances.’
Demonstrators hold large letters spelling out ‘Free Assange,’ refering to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, currently trying to avoid extradition to the US
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is due to fly to the US to meet with Joe Biden (pictured) in late October, just as Mr Assange’s legal options in the UK are set to finally run out
Last week Kevin Rudd, Australia’s ambassador to the US, said the pursuit of Mr Assange had ‘gone on too long.’
‘As for Secretary Blinken’s statements recently, that’s to be anticipated from the administration, reflecting their concerns about the history of the case,’ he said.
‘We in Australia have our own concerns that we continue to reflect and my job as Australia’s leading diplomat in the US is to engage effectively, which usually means silently with the US administration, in order to maximise our prospects.
‘The prime minister has already made clear that this has gone on for too long. I agree with him.’
Since winning office in 2022, the Albanese government has been advocating for the US pursuit of Assange to end.
The PM said earlier this month: ‘We remain very firm in our view and in our representations to the American government and we will continue to do so.
A solution needs to be found that brings this matter to a conclusion…Mr Assange needs to be a part of that, of course.’
Since winning office in 2022, the Albanese government has been advocating for the US pursuit of Assange to end
Julian Assange and WikiLeaks
Julian Assange founded WikiLeaks in 2006 with the intention to release information on the internet that governments of corporations wanted to be kept secret.
WikiLeaks got massive international attention in 2010 when it published a series of military leaks provided by US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea (formerly known as Bradley) Manning.
After the 2010 leaks, the US government launched a criminal investigation into WikiLeaks.
In November 2010, Sweden issued an arrest warrant for Assange over allegations of sexual misconduct.
Julian Assange gestures to the media from a police vehicle on his arrival at Westminster Magistrates court on April 11, 2019 in London
He denied the allegation and said the warrant was a ruse for a further extradition to the US over his role publishing secret US military documents.
Assange breached bail in the UK and lived in Ecuador’s embassy in London from June 2012 until April 2019.
He was granted asylum by Ecuador in August 2012 on the grounds of political persecution.
In early 2019 Swedish prosecutors dropped their investigation, saying their evidence had ‘weakened considerably due to the long period of time that has elapsed since the events in question’.
But on April 11, 2019, Assange’s asylum was withdrawn after several disputes with Ecuadorian authorities.
He was arrested by the British police and has been fighting extradition to the US ever since.