QUITO, Ecuador — Ecuador’s president has ramped up pressure on Julian Assange to leave the country’s embassy in London. Lenin Moreno said Britain had provided sufficient guarantees the WikiLeaks founder won’t be extradited to face the death penalty abroad.
Moreno’s comments in a radio interview Thursday suggest that months of quiet diplomacy between the U.K. and Ecuador to resolve Assange’s situation is bearing fruit at a time when questions are swirling about the former Australian hacker’s legal fate in the U.S.
“The road is clear for Mr. Assange to take the decision to leave,” Moreno said, referring to written assurances he said he had received from Britain.
Moreno didn’t say he would force Assange out, but said the activist’s legal team is considering its next steps.
Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy since 2012, when he was granted asylum while facing allegations of sex crimes in Sweden that he said were a guise to extradite him to the U.S.
But his relations with his hosts have soured to the point that Moreno earlier this year cut off his access to the internet, purportedly for violating the terms of his asylum by speaking out on political matters.
Assange in turn sued, saying his rights as an Ecuadorian — he was granted citizenship last year as part of an apparent attempt to name him a diplomat and ferry him to Russia — were being violated.
The mounting tensions has drawn Moreno closer to the position of Britain, which for years has said it is barred by law from extraditing suspects to any jurisdiction where they would face capital punishment.
But nothing is preventing it from extraditing him to the U.S. if prosecutors there were to pledge not to seek the death penalty.
Those fears were heightened when U.S prosecutors last month mistakenly referenced criminal charges against him in an unrelated case.
The Associated Press and other outlets have reported Assange is indeed facing unspecified charges under seal, but prosecutors have so far provided no official confirmation.
Thursday’s development comes after a revelation that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort traveled to Ecuador in 2017 in an effort to broker an investment deal between that country and China, his spokesman told CBS News. And during that trip, the spokesman said, Ecuador’s president raised the possibility of a deal that would remove Assange from the embassy.
Manafort’s trip to Ecuador and what he discussed regarding Assange has become a subject of speculation in recent weeks. Manafort recently dismissed a story that he met with Assange in person during the 2016 campaign as “false and deliberately libelous.”