Rudd hands-off over WikiLeaks grand jury inquiry

Philip Dorling  – November 28 2011

The Australian government says it is not aware of any American criminal charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and has “no formal advice” concerning a US grand jury espionage investigation focused on the whistleblower group.

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd has insisted his department has provided “high-level consular assistance” to Mr Assange who is pursuing a further legal appeal against his extradition from Britain to Sweden to be questioned by prosecutors about sexual molestation allegations.

In answer to a parliamentary question on notice from Australian Greens senator Scott Ludlam, Mr Rudd has further indicated that Australia’s ambassador to Sweden sought assurances from Swedish authorities on three occasions that Mr Assange’s case would proceed in accordance with “due process”.

However, Mr Rudd avoided a direct answer to whether Mr Assange could be subject to a “temporary surrender” mechanism that could allow him to be extradited from Sweden to the US where the Department of Justice has been using a secret grand jury process to investigate alleged collusion between WikiLeaks and US Army serviceman Bradley Manning.

Private Manning has been charged with “aiding the enemy” by leaking hundreds of thousands of classified US Defence and State Department documents to WikiLeaks. After more than 18th months’ imprisonment he will face a pretrial hearing at Fort Meade, Maryland, on December 16. Mr Rudd stated that the Australian government was “closely monitoring all developments in MrAssange’s case”, but had received “no formal advice of any grand jury investigation” and was “not aware of any current extradition request by US authorities”.

“The Australian government is not aware of any charges by the US government against MrAssange, including under the US Espionage Act,” Mr Rudd replied to Senator Ludlam.

The British High Court rejected on November 2 an appeal by Mr Assange against his extradition to Sweden. The court will determine on December 5 whether he will be allowed to appeal to the British Supreme Court. If Mr Assange is unsuccessful, he will be extradited to Sweden within 10 days, that is, no later than December 15. Senator Ludlam called on the government to “prevent Mr Assange being further extradited from Sweden to the US for doing what the media have always done, which is bring to light material that governments would prefer to keep secret”.

Senator Ludlam will travel to London to attend Mr Assange’s further appeal hearing on December 5.

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