A short sharp inquiry into the role of the British authorities at the Crown Prosecution Service in the Julian Assange case. A cross-party group of Members of Parliament which includes Labour MP John McDonnell, Green MP Caroline Lucas, Jeremy Corbyn and Conservative MP David Davis, just submitted its request for an inquiry into a letter to the chair of the Justice Select Committee of the British Parliament, Sir Bob Neill. “Given the significance of the case of Julian Assange in relation to journalistic freedoms and the widespread public interest in the case”, the parliamentarians write in their letter, “it is critically important that all the public bodies dealing with the case are seen to be acting in the public interest and acting appropriately”.

The letter from british parliamentarians to request an inquiry

The initiative is a crucial one to say the least, as the Crown Prosecution Service – the public authority which prosecutes criminal cases in England and Wales – is the authority whereby the United States acts in the current extradition case against Julian Assange. And this request for an inquiry has been submitted as the extradition sword of Damocles hangs over the WikiLeaks founder’s head. On Monday, the 20th of May, a crucial hearing will be held at the British High Court. If the High Court rules in favour of Julian Assange’s extradition, he will have only one chance left: appealing to the European Court of Human Rights.

The request for an inquiry submitted by McDonnell, Lucas, Corbyn and Davis is based on a number of sources: the information we have obtained through a relentless FOIA battle, one we have been pursuing in the United Kingdom since 2015 to obtain the full documentation on Julian Assange from the Crown Prosecution Service; the investigation conducted by professor Nils Melzer, who was UN Special Rapporteur on Torture from 2016 to 2022; and on questions posed by one of the signatories, Labour MP John McDonnell, of the CPS.

None of the three attempts to shed light on the Crown Prosecution Service’s role in the Assange case have received a satisfactory response from the British authorities. Indeed, our FOIA battle has been ongoing for almost a decade now. Professor Melzer’s investigation has never been addressed by the British government. And although MCDonnell did receive some responses from the Crown Prosecution Service, far from providing clarity, they prompted him to request an investigation into the Select Justice Committee.

A key authority

The letter to the chair of the Justice Select Committee opens explaining the important role of the CPS: “For the last fourteen years”, the four parliamentarians write, “the Crown Prosecution Service has been the key public authority in the UK in the Julian Assange case, first in the extradition request concerning the Swedish case and now in the request for extradition to the United States”. They then move on to the core of their inquiry request: “The evidence that has come to light opens the CPS to allegations that it misjudged, or possibly overstepped, its role when advising the Swedish authorities on the extradition of Mr. Assange to Sweden. This leads to questions about the motive behind such actions, including whether the CPS was influenced by another extradition request, aimed to facilitate Mr Assange’s subsequent extradition to the US”.

What do the parliamentarians mean? They are referring to the fact that in 2010, not even four weeks after Julian Assange and WikiLeaks began publishing the secret files on the war in Afghanistan, the founder of WikiLeaks found himself in an investigation on alleged rape and sexual molestation in Sweden. That investigation was conducted by the Swedish prosecutors at the Swedish Prosecution Authority and supported by the British authorities at the Crown Prosecution Service, since despite being under investigation in Sweden, Assange was physically in London.

The Swedish investigation was closed once and for all in 2019, with no charges against the founder of WikiLeaks. Today, only one sword of Damocles hangs over his head: the risk of extradition to the United States, where he risks 175 years in prison for publishing classified U.S. documents.

Understanding how the Crown Prosecution Service behaved in the Swedish investigation is still crucial for unearthing the truth about the Assange and WikiLeaks case. Ever since 2010, when the investigation was opened in Sweden, up to this day, Julian Assange has never again known freedom. What role has the CPS played? Understanding this is crucial, given the service’s current role in the U.S. extradition case.

The Swedish investigation remained paralyzed in the preliminary stage from September 2010 to the end of 2016, without the Swedish prosecutor, Marianne Ny, deciding to question and ultimately charge him after obtaining sufficient evidence to bring him to trial, or dropping the investigation once and for all. Assange was thus left in a limbo, neither charged nor cleared, while the “rapist” label remained attached to his name, alienating public opinion’s empathy and support.

No one understood why Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny did not want to travel to London to question Julian Assange and determine whether to charge him or not. It was our FOIA investigation that allowed unearthing the reason: it was the British authorities at the Crown Prosecution Service, specifically lawyer Paul Close, who advised the Swedish prosecutors not to question Assange in London. By excluding the only legal strategy which could have brought the Swedish case to a quick resolution, the British authorities at the CPS helped create the legal and diplomatic quagmire that has kept Julian Assange nailed in London since 2010. Why did they do it?

After three years attempting to extradite him to Sweden, even the Swedish authorities began to question the dead end into which they had waded by insisting on extradition at the advice of Paul Close and the Crown Prosecution Service. On October 2013, the Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny considered dropping the extradition and withdrawing the European Arrest Warrant. It was her investigation, she had the authority to do so: why didn’t she? And why did the Crown Prosecution Service reply: “I would like to consider all the angles over the weekend.” What angles did the British authorities have in a Swedish sex case? “I hope it didn’t ruin your weekend,” Ny replied. It is unclear why a Swedish prosecutor dropping an extradition would ruin the weekend of Crown Prosecution Service’s authorities.

The highly anomalous handling of the Swedish case by both the Swedish prosecutors and the Crown Prosecution Service resulted in justice for no one, contributed to the devastation of Assange’s health, cost British taxpayers at least 13.2 million pounds, resulted in the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention decision that Sweden and Britain had arbitrarily detained Assange since 2010 and, finally, led UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, to denounce 50 perceived due process violations, including “a proactive manipulation of evidence”.

In his investigation, Melzer referred to “third-party interference on the part of the British Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)” and wrote that the correspondence between CPS and the Swedish prosecutors “does suggest that the British CPS had strong interests, independently from those pursued by the Swedish prosecution, in discouraging Mr. Assange’s questioning in London, but also in preventing the envisaged closure of the investigation and withdrawal of the arrest warrant by Sweden”. What kind of “strong interests” could the CPS have had in preventing the envisaged closure of the investigation?

“To this day, no British authorities have addressed the violations denounced by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer”, the four parliamentarians write in their letter to the Justice Select Committee. And in the last nine years of our FOIA battle, no matter our relentless requests and our appeals to the London Tribunals, the CPS has never released a single page of its correspondence with the U.S. authorities to us, as it “would risk damaging the relationship of trust and confidence that exists between the CPS and both the US and other foreign authorities”, judge O’Connor ruled in May 2023.

The destruction of key documents

To shed light on the Julian Assange case, it is crucial to obtain the full documentation from the Crown Prosecution Service. In 2017, however, we discovered that the email account of Paul Close, the lawyer who advised the Swedish prosecutors not to question Assange in London, was deleted in 2014. CPS informed us that “all the data associated with Paul Close’s account was deleted when he retired and cannot be recovered”. Since that far-off 2017, all our attempts to discover why the data was deleted, how, and on whose instructions, have failed, despite our repeated appeals to the London First-tier Tribunal, represented by top-notch FOIA specialist, Estelle Dehon, a barrister at Cornerstone Barristers.

Responding to Labour MP John McDonnell’s request as to whether there is a backup system to retrieve the deleted account once it has been permanently deleted, the CPS answered that there is no such backup system and that there is no way to know whether all relevant emails were transferred to the case file before the account was deleted.

The British authorities at the Crown Prosecution Service were not the only ones to delete the account; the Swedish Prosecution Authority also destroyed a substantial part of its documentation on Julian Assange.

“As can be seen from this body of research into the CPS’s role in the Swedish investigation, there are clearly questions to be answered by the CPS”, the four parliamentarians write in the letter.

The ball is now in the Justice Select Committee’s court: will it undertake an inquiry to pierce the wall of darkness surrounding the Assange and WikiLeaks case, or will the wall remain impenetrable?

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