Ecuador says man ‘close’ to Julian Assange arrested

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Ecuador says man ‘close’ to Julian Assange arrested

A man linked to Wikileaks cofounder Julian Assange has been arrested in Ecuador for “investigative purposes”, the country’s interior minister has said. 

“A person close to Wikileaks, who has been residing in Ecuador, was arrested this afternoon when he was preparing to travel to Japan,”  Maria Romo tweeted late on Thursday.

The man who was arrested has reportedly lived in Ecuador for several years and has frequented the country’s London embassy where Assange had been staying, Romo told CNN’s Spanish language service.

An unnamed Ecuadorian official told the Associated Press that a man named Ola Bini, a Swedish software developer living in Ecuador’s capital, Quito, was arrested as authorities attempt to dismantle a blackmail ring that in recent days had threatened to retaliate against Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno.

The official spoke on the condition of anonymity and didn’t provide any additional details about Bini.

The arrest came hours after Assange himself was arrested at Ecuador’s embassy in London.

In a blog, Bini described himself as a software developer working in Quito for the Center for Digital Autonomy, a group based in Ecuador and Spain focused on privacy, security and cryptography issues. It makes no mention of any affiliation with Wikileaks.

On Twitter earlier on Thursday, Bini called claims by Romo that Russian hackers and someone close to Wikileaks were working inside Ecuador “very worrisome” news. “This seems like a witch hunt to me,” Bini wrote. 

Assange arrest

Police in London on Thursday said they arrested Assange, an Australian national, after being “invited into the embassy by the ambassador, following the Ecuadorean government’s withdrawal of asylum.”

Footage appeared to show police dragging a bearded Assange from the embassy and putting him into a police van.

Assange had been living at the embassy since 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over a sexual assault case that has since been dropped.

Ecuador’s President Moreno said in a video posted to Twitter that he had revoked Assange’s asylum because of his “discourteous and aggressive behaviour”.

There has been an ongoing dispute between the Ecuadorian authorities and Assange about what he was allowed to do at the embassy.

Moreno said he believed Assange was still working with WikiLeaks and was “therefore involved in interfering in international affairs of other states”.

He also accused Assange of installing banned “electronic and distortion equipment” in the embassy, blocking the building’s security cameras, mistreating guards and accessing the embassy’s security files without permission.

“The asylum of Mr Assange is unsustainable and no longer viable … after his repeated violations to international conventions and daily-life protocols,” Moreno said.

Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands, reporting from outside the court where Assange’s hearing took place later on Thursday, said that as well as being arrested for the charge of skipping bail, Assange had been “further arrested” for charges he faces in the United States.

Assange pleaded not guilty to the charge of breaking the terms of his bail but was convicted. He will be sentenced at a later date when he will face a maximum sentence of 12 months in prison for the offence.

He is due to appear in court via video link on the issue of extradition to the US on May 2.

SOURCE:
Al Jazeera and news agencies

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