‘Special designation’? Ecuador reportedly mulled sending Assange as a diplomat to Russia
London refused to grant WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange diplomatic immunity so he could escape the confinement of the Ecuadorian embassy in the UK and relocate to Russia, Reuters reports, citing government communications.
The persona of Julian Assange has become a thorn in Ecuador’s president Lenin Moreno's side and, ever since assuming office in May of last year, Moreno has made every effort to make sure the Australian's stay at Ecuador’s embassy in London comes to an end as soon as possible. To shift the responsibility for Assange's protection against US persecution, Ecuador allegedly mulled offering the WikiLeaks founder a diplomatic post in Russia, which the country hoped would enable him –protected by diplomatic immunity– to finally leave the embassy after six years of arbitrary detention.
London, however, refused to honor Moreno's move to authorize "special designation" for 47-year-old to carry out diplomatic functions in Moscow, and declined to grant the whistleblower a free passage out of the country, Reuters reports, citing a letter by Ecuador's foreign ministry to opposition legislator Paola Vintimilla. According to the letter, Quito abandoned its idea to relocate the whistleblower to Moscow after the UK Foreign Office refused to recognize Assange's special status, or any privileges and immunities awarded under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
The “special designation” status awarded by the Ecuadorian president would allow Assange to hold diplomatic posts abroad even if the whistleblower is not career diplomat. However, under English law, the 47 year-old can only enjoy diplomatic privileges, such as immunity, only if his credentials are accepted by the Foreign Office.
While the contents of the letter have yet to be verified, Moscow had previously ridiculed sensationalist reports by UK tabloids exposing a 'secret Russian plan' to extract Assange from his London confinement.
Citing at least four, traditionally anonymous, sources, the Guardian wrote that Moscow was plotting to smuggle Assange out of London on Christmas eve last year, but dropped the plan because it was "deemed too risky." The paper, claimed that Ecuador's former London consul, Fidel Narvaez, was in talks with Russian diplomats and in constant contact with a 'Russian businessman' who coordinated the proposed operation with the Kremlin. It took the newspaper a mere five paragraphs of its 1,000-word report to bring up "questions about Assange's ties to the Kremlin" in the context of the notorious Mueller probe and alleged 'Russian hacking' of the US elections.
The Russian embassy in London called the article a clear example of "disinformation and fake news by British media," while the Foreign Ministry also rejected the report. "It is worth noting that attempts to picture Ecuadorian diplomats' meetings at the Russian embassy in the light of conspiracy theories do not stand up to criticism," the ministry stressed.
Another example of disinformation and fake news by British media pic.twitter.com/94CiEgQsB8— Russian Embassy, UK (@RussianEmbassy) September 21, 2018
"As regards the idea that 'the Kremlin was willing to offer support' to a secret plan by 'allowing Assange to travel to Russia', we are puzzled by the sensational attitude of the authors," the Russian embassy added. "Russia is always happy to welcome international guests if they arrive in a lawful manner and with good intentions."
Assange was granted asylum inside Ecuador’s UK embassy in August 2012 and avoided extradition to Sweden, and potentially the United States. While Sweden has since dropped the case against him over alleged sexual assault, Assange was forced to remain inside the embassy because he is still subject to arrest in the UK for jumping bail six years ago. Assange fears that, once British authorities detain him, he will be extradited to the US where he is likely to face serious charges over his role as WikiLeaks founder. Ecuador granted Assange citizenship last December.
Despite widespread speculation over the summer that he may soon be kicked out of the Ecuadorian embassy by Moreno as part of an effort to establish closer ties with the US, Assange's asylum status seems to be safe for now, his lawyer told RT on Thursday.
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