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Assange sex assault allegations debated for second day in extradition hearing

By Anthony Faiola and Karla Adam
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, February 8, 2011; 10:54 PM

LONDON - Attorneys for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange continued to hit at the credibility of the case against him on Tuesday, the second day of his extradition hearing, calling two witnesses who condemned the way authorities in Sweden have handled the sexual-assault accusations against him.

But the testimony of both witnesses appeared to backfire in part against the 39-year-old Australian, particularly that of a former Swedish prosecutor who conceded that Swedish authorities may have rightfully issued a warrant for Assange's arrest. The witness also cast doubt on defense assertions that Sweden will extradite him to the United States if he is sent to Sweden.

Assange, who is wanted for questioning in Sweden on allegations of sexual molestation, unlawful coercion and rape, sat in the courtroom wearing a dark suit and burgundy tie for what was set to be the final day of his extradition hearing.

But as testimony continued, Judge Howard Riddle signaled that the trial will instead adjourn Friday, when closing statements will be made. Riddle may reserve immediate judgment and issue a written verdict in the days ahead. But experts predict that a resolution might not come for months, given the various routes for legal appeals.

The hearing will determine whether British authorities will honor a Swedish warrant for Assange, who is under partial house arrest in Britain as he fights extradition. The warrant hinges on allegations by two Swedish women with whom Assange had brief affairs in Stockholm in August. Both claim that specific encounters with Assange became nonconsensual, with one saying he engaged in unwanted, unprotected sex with her while she was asleep, an act considered criminal rape in Sweden. Assange has denied the accusations, describing them as the words of jilted lovers.

Assange's attorneys have sought to cast doubt on the credibility of not only Assange's accusers but also the Swedish prosecutors. After calling to the stand on Monday a former Swedish judge who described Marianne Ny, the Swedish prosecutor seeking Assange's arrest, as an overzealous women's rights crusader with a bias against men, Assange's attorneys put retired Swedish prosecutor Sven-Erik Alhem on the stand Tuesday.

Alhem condemned what he described as the mishandling of Assange's case, particularly the fact that Ny's office confirmed Assange as a suspect to the media. Alhem said he saw no reason why Swedish authorities could not send a representative to question Assange in Britain, something the WikiLeaks founder has agreed to.

"An absolute prerequisite of a fair trial is that the preliminary investigation is also fair," Alhem said.

Clare Montgomery, a prosecuting attorney, has defended the Swedish prosecutors' motives, describing the accusations against Assange as serious. Under cross-examination Tuesday, Alhem said that if he were Assange, he would have flown to Sweden to clear his name. He also conceded that Ny may have been right to issue the arrest warrant for Assange given the facts in the case.

Alhem dismissed the defense assertions that Sweden intended to hand over Assange to the United States if U.S. officials charge him in connection with the disclosure of secret documents on the Internet.

"I believe it is completely impossible that Mr. Assange would be extradited to the U.S. [from Sweden] without a complete media storm," Alhem said.

The defense also called Bjorn Hurtig, Assange's Swedish attorney, who denounced Ny for media leaks and said the prosecution had reviewed texts from the two women that showed they were seeking revenge. But under cross-examination, he admitted making a mistake on the basic fact of when Ny first requested an interview with Assange, acknowledging that she had sought to question him while he was still in Sweden in September.

After the hearing, Assange and his attorney Mark Stephens briefly addressed reporters, calling on Ny to agree to appear as a witness at the hearing, something she has thus far declined to do.

"I challenge you, Marianne Ny, come to London, come on Friday, subject yourself to the cross-examination of Geoffrey Robertson," Stephens said, referring to Assange's lead attorney.

faiolaa@washpost.com adamk@washpost.com

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