Last year, Ecuador attempted to deputize WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as one of its own diplomats and send him to Russia, according to a Friday report by Reuters.
Citing an “Ecuadorian government document,” which the news agency did not publish, Assange apparently was briefly granted a “special designation” to act as one of its diplomats, a privilege normally granted to the president for political allies.
On Friday evening, neither WikiLeaks nor the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry immediately responded to Ars’ request for comment via Twitter. However, earlier in the day, WikiLeaks categorically denied that Assange’s proposed diplomatic status had anything to do with Russia.
1. It is false that giving Julian Assange diplomatic status is news. It has been widely discussed for almost a year by Ecuador and the international bar and has nothing, whatsover, to do with Russia: https://t.co/SZT9F36e7F
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) September 21, 2018
On Friday, also prior to the Reuters report, the Russian Embassy in London denied being involved with trying to get Assange out of the Ecuadorian embassy.
“The Embassy has never engaged either with Ecuadorian colleagues, or with anyone else, in discussions on any kind of Russia’s participation in ending Mr Assange’s stay within the diplomatic mission of Ecuador,” it wrote.
The Russian Embassy did not immediately respond to Ars’ request for comment late Friday evening.
So many questions, so little time
The Reuters report comes a day after Paola Vintimilla, a member of the Ecuadorian parliament, started raising public questions about Julian Assange’s status inside the country’s London embassy and about the citizenship Assange was granted last year.
Vintimillia said at a press conference (Spanish) in Quito on Thursday that Assange’s citizenship should be rescinded. She also said that it is not clear precisely what legal status Assange has, as he appears to have withdrawn his asylum claim as of December 4, 2017, just eight days prior to his being granted citizenship.
“At this moment, what is Assange’s status?” she said. “He’s an Ecuadorian living in the London embassy and we’re paying for this?”
Lo que queremos saber y que nos debe contestar el Canciller es:
¿Cuál es actualmente el estatus del Sr. Assange en nuestra Embajada en Londres? ¿Por qué lo seguimos manteniendo? @radioquitoecpic.twitter.com/YdyQ9F3R82
— Paola Vintimilla (@PaolaVintimilla) September 21, 2018
Vintimilla also noted that Assange’s naturalization documents “mysteriously” lack the signature of then-Foreign Minister María Espinosa.
As Reuters reported, the United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office told Ecuador on December 21, 2017 that it would not accept Assange as a diplomat. Had the UK accepted his diplomatic status, he likely would have been allowed to leave the embassy and travel to Moscow.
Once Ecuador learned of the UK’s perspective on Assange’s status, the country abandoned the plan to make him a diplomat.
Were Assange to leave the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has lived since 2012, he would almost certainly be arrested by British authorities. Assange has said he is concerned that he would be extradited to the United States.
“We assess with high confidence that the GRU relayed material it acquired from the DNC and senior Democratic officials to WikiLeaks,” the Office of the Director of National Intelligence wrote in a January 7, 2017 report. “Moscow most likely chose WikiLeaks because of its self-proclaimed reputation for authenticity. Disclosures through WikiLeaks did not contain any evident forgeries.”