LONDON — Britain’s Supreme Court Thursday allowed a U.S. attempt to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to answer questions on charges of espionage against him, turning down a last-ditch challenge to his deportation.
Assange, whose release on bail four years ago led to a court showdown over his extradition, was holed up inside Ecuador’s embassy here since June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden. Sweden is investigating allegations of sexual assault and rape against him, and Britain then sought his extradition on a U.S. warrant for alleged conspiracy and rape, which it says he denies.
Assange’s lawyers argued that Britain’s extradition treaty with the U.S. prohibits cooperation with a country over criminal matters for which a suspect is free to travel, and that the American allegations were politically motivated.
But the court rejected that argument, saying that England and Wales had the right to extradite suspected criminals for crimes that carry lengthy prison sentences in the U.S. because the two countries signed a “judicial extradition agreement” in December 2001.
There was no immediate response from Assange’s lawyers to the Supreme Court ruling, which will be published Thursday afternoon.
Assange, who has been protected by the Ecuadorian embassy since 2012, did not attend Thursday’s hearing, but his lawyers had prepared a written statement.
“The important legal issues raised by the government’s claim before the Supreme Court remain unresolved,” said the statement, which the BBC published Thursday. “We will be making submissions in detail to the court in due course.”