Wikileaks' Assange inquiry by Sweden 'improper'

Julian Assange: "We have seen the distortion of evidence and facts"

Swedish prosecutors did not follow "proper procedure" while investigating rape claims against Julian Assange, a UK extradition hearing was told.

Sven-Erik Alhem, a witness, said it was "quite peculiar" that authorities did not get the Wikileaks founder's version of events before seeking his arrest.

Prosecutors said repeated attempts were made to persuade him to be interviewed.

Mr Assange, 39, denies claims of sexual assault against two women. The case was adjourned until Friday.

Mr Alhem, a former Swedish prosecutor, told Belmarsh Magistrates' Court he had not met Mr Assange before and was only interested in justice being done.

He said Marianne Ny, the Swedish prosecutor in Mr Assange's case, "should have made sure Mr Assange was able to give his version of events in detail".

However, when Mr Alhem was asked what he would have done if faced with similar allegations, he said: "If I was in his shoes then I would have gone to Sweden to give my version of events.

"It would be very important to me to clear my name given I was innocent."

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'Swedish prosecutors acted unlawfully by telling tabloid Assange was rape suspect' court heard”

End Quote BBC's Anna Adams tweeting from court

And when asked whether Mr Assange could be at risk of being transferred to the US if extradited, he said: "My understanding is there is not a risk of being extradited to the US but there are exceptions, which I'm not aware of and can't comment on.

"I believe it's impossible Mr Assange could be extradited to the US without a complete media storm."

Mr Assange is the founder of whistle-blowing website Wikileaks, which has been used to publish leaked US diplomatic cables, as well as other sensitive material from governments and high-profile organisations.

He has argued he was willing to give his side of the story after rape allegations were made against him and Sweden's decision to arrest and extradite him was disproportionate.

But Clare Montgomery QC, representing Swedish prosecutors, outlined how in September last year Mr Assange - who had been in the country - was invited 10 times to give his response, but his lawyers were unable to contact him.

Authorities made an unsuccessful search for him and then learned that the Wikileaks founder had left for the UK.

At the scene

Julian Assange's supporters claim that "freedom of information itself is on trial" and whatever the reality, the world's media seems to have taken the view that something of great significance is happening.

Extradition cases take place at magistrates' courts, but to make space for the huge world media presence the hearing is being held in Woolwich Crown Court, a high security building next to Belmarsh prison.

TV satellite trucks line the track around the perimeter fence of the site. Inside, press pens restrain about 30 TV cameras and scores of photographers. There are crews from Australia, China, the US and of course, Sweden.

For the past few weeks, in a groundbreaking move, reporters have been allowed to Tweet from the courtroom, but there are still no plans to let camera crews inside.

The attempts to interview him continued into October - Mr Assange offered to speak via videolink or phone, but this was turned down because of the seriousness of the allegations.

Swedish prosecutors decided he had become what they called an obvious flight risk and it was not unreasonable to detain him.

The second witness, Mr Assange's Swedish lawyer, Bjorn Hurtig, said the alleged crime was downgraded from "rape of the normal degree" to rape of a lesser degree following discussions with Sweden's Court of Appeal.

He told the court the case had been plagued by leaks to the press, with one prosecutor even breaking the law on confidentiality.

"The result was if you, a couple of hours after this happened, went on to the internet and entered Julian's name and 'rape', you got two to three million hits," he said.

Yet, it was almost unheard of for rape trials in Sweden to be held in public and there was little a defence lawyer could do to remedy any adverse effects such leaks might have on their client, the court heard.

Mr Hurtig said his client had been authorised to leave the country by the prosecutor, contrary to the suggestion Mr Assange fled when he learned he was to be questioned.

Marianne Ny even told the lawyer at first that no police interrogation was planned, the court heard.

The court was also told that investigators have collected around 100 messages to and from Mr Assange's two alleged victims that his lawyers say undermine the case against him.

Mr Hurtig said the texts indicate the women expected to be paid, intended to get "revenge" and wanted to contact newspapers to "blast" his client's reputation.

But he said prosecutors in Stockholm have not let him have copies, making it impossible for Assange to receive a fair trial.

The proceedings will resume on 11 February for an extra half a day.

Leaving court, Mr Assange and his London-based solicitor Mark Stephens urged Ms Nye to appear at the hearing on Friday so she could face questioning.

Mr Assange added: "Our witnesses were brought from Sweden, my lawyer was brought from Sweden and expensively cross-examined. Where is the equality in this case?

"We see an unlimited budget of Sweden and the UK being spent on this matter and my rather limited budget being spent in response."

Mr Assange, an Australian citizen, was released on bail by a High Court judge in December after spending nine days in Wandsworth prison.

He denies sexually assaulting two female supporters during a visit to Stockholm in August and claims the inquiry is politically motivated.

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