The United States has agreed not to seek the death penalty against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in covert negotiations with the UK and Ecuador to get him evicted from the South American country’s embassy in London, US media reported.
The process of moving Assange out of the Ecuadorian Embassy started a year ago, in March 2018, when the Ecuadorians made their first request to Britain, ABC News reported on Monday.
Ecuador made its request in a letter on March 7 of last year, asking for written assurances that the UK would not extradite Assange to a country where he could face the death penalty, the report said, citing US and Ecuadorian officials.
Ecuador’s direct outreach to the US came six months later, through the country’s ambassador to Germany, Manuel Mejia Dalmau, according to the report.
Dalmau sought a private "emergency meeting" in Berlin with the US Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, viewed as one of President Donald Trump’s closest envoys in Europe.
During one meeting, Dalmau asked whether the US would commit to not putting Assange to death, according to a senior US official.
Grenell then contacted the US Justice Department to see if he could provide assurances that the US government would not seek the death penalty. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein agreed to the request. That enabled Grenell to make the pledge.
However, the agreement between the US and Ecuador was a verbal one, according to a source in the Ecuadoran government.
US Justice Department officials have noted that the charge against Assange does not represent a capital crime and carries a maximum of five years in prison.
Assange, 47, is wanted by the US government for publishing classified documents related to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars that were leaked by American whistleblower Chelsea Manning.
Assange was granted asylum by Ecuador’s former president Rafael Correa, after he took refuge in the country’s embassy in 2012. Ecuador’s current president, Lenin Moreno, however, revoked the asylum and allowed police to arrest him on Thursday.
Ecuador says it has spent $10 million on Assange, including medical expenses, legal counsel, food and laundry since 2012 when Assange first sought asylum at the embassy.
Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said Friday the UK government should oppose the extradition of Assange to the United States.
Corbyn said that the US is trying to extradite Assange because he exposed American war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.