WikiLeaks claims 'extortion' over leaked Assange footage

London (AFP) –


WikiLeaks on Wednesday claimed that it was being blackmailed by "dubious characters" who had obtained security camera footage of founder Julian Assange inside Ecuador's embassy in London.

Kristinn Hrafnsson, editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, accused Ecuador authorities of gathering thousands of photographs and videos, which then found their way into the hands of a group in Spain, who were demanding $3 million (2.7 million euros) not to publish them.

"We learned some individuals in Spain were passing around information, that they had a massive trove of documents... from inside the embassy," he told reporters in London.

"I asked them what documents they had and I got an email back. He said 'this material has a price'."

The documents include thousands of photographs and gigabytes of video footage showing Assange meeting with lawyers and visitors and of him receiving a medical check-up.

"It's not hard to see that as extortion," said Hrafnsson, adding that the Spanish police had opened an investigation.

"Of much greater concern is this material gathering and spying by the Ecuadorian government," he said, calling it "illegal and extremely unethical".

"Since (President Lenin) Moreno took power in Ecuador, Julian Assange has been living in a Truman Show type situation," he claimed.

The editor also accused embassy staff of photocopying a legal document belonging to Assange's lawyer Aitor Martinez.

WikiLeaks believes that the United States is working with Ecuador to extradite Assange to face charges, and that the embassy documents were "quite likely shared with the Trump administration", although it offered no proof of this.

The group, which rose to prominence by publishing leaked US intelligence documents, said that "very reliable sources" had told them Ecuador was last week preparing to kick Assange out of its London embassy, where he was granted refuge by previous president Rafael Correa in 2012.

"The only reason why this was averted, in our opinion, is that we learned about it," said Hrafnsson.

Ecuador said on Tuesday it was reassessing Assange's asylum claim, revocation of which would lead to his arrest by the British authorities for skipping bail.

The Australian sought refuge at Ecuador's embassy seven years ago to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faced accusations of sexual assault that prosecutors in Stockholm have since abandoned.

Assange has refused to leave the embassy to avoid extradition to the United States to face charges over his website publishing huge caches of hacked State Department and Pentagon files in 2010.

The 47-year-old Australian, who denies the rape claims, said he feared Sweden would pass him on to US authorities if he was extradited.

The Swedish chief prosecutor dropped proceedings against him in 2017.