Want the best from VICE News in your inbox? Sign up here.
Julian Assange is going to be expelled from the Ecuadorian embassy in London “within hours or days,” according to whistleblowing organization WikiLeaks.
WikiLeaks’ Twitter account announced late Thursday that “a high-level source” inside the Ecuadorian government has informed them about Assange’s imminent removal. This was followed by another tweet Friday morning saying a second source inside the Quito government had backed up the claim.
However, a senior Ecuadorian official told the AP that no decision has been made to expel Assange from the country’s London embassy. The foreign ministry in Quito added that it “doesn’t comment on rumors, theories or conjectures that don’t have any documented backing.”
Even people within the WikiLeaks world seem unsure whether the threat of expulsion is real this time, with some suggesting the claims are being made to undermine WikiLeaks and Assange.
“It smells like [the people behind this rumor] are trying to get the supporters to cry wolf one too many times,” Raymond Johansen, a transparency activist, told VICE News. “When it does happen, and it will, there will be no leaks or publicity up front.”
Last July, there were numerous reports that Ecuador was about to withdraw asylum and kick Assange out after striking a deal with the U.K. government. A member of Assange’s team told the Sunday Times that they were drawing up plans in the event Assange was evicted in “hours, days or weeks.”
“I expect [Assange] to lose his asylum status imminently,” a source told the paper at the time. “This means he will be expelled from the embassy. When this will happen is impossible to say.”
The similar wording used Thursday night will only heighten suggestions that “games are being played,” Johansen said.
But others believe there's more to this story than previous claims that Assange’s time inside the London embassy was coming to an end.
"These reports have been circulating for the last two weeks or more,” Barrett Brown, an activist who once defended Assange and WikiLeaks but had a very public falling out with him in 2017, told VICE News. Brown said a journalist informed him that U.S. law enforcement officials had tipped her off about Assange’s imminent arrest two weeks ago.
Whenever Assange is eventually expelled, he is likely to be arrested the minute he steps outside the embassy, due to an ongoing U.K. arrest warrant for skipping bail in 2010.
“Julian Assange is a free man,” Jeremy Hunt, the U.K. foreign secretary, told the Guardian Friday. “He can leave that embassy whenever he wants. We want the situation resolved as quickly as possible. It is up to him.”
Assange fears the U.K. will strike a deal to extradite him to the U.S. over the leaking of thousands of diplomatic cables in 2010.
WikiLeaks claims the move to expel Assange now is part of Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno’s attempts to cover up his use of an offshore tax haven created by his brother. The details of the scheme were made public in a leaked dossier from an anonymous source to an opposition lawmaker. Moreno claims the leak was orchestrated by Assange and WikiLeaks — allegations both parties deny.
“The leak has sparked a congressional investigation into President Moreno for corruption. Moreno can’t be summoned for a criminal probe while he remains president. He is currently being investigated and risks impeachment,” a post on WikiLeaks legal defense fund website said.
Addressing the issue just two days ago, Moreno told radio stations in Ecuador that “Assange has too often repeatedly violated the agreement we have with him and his legal team.” But Moreno stopped short of saying his government would withdraw asylum.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the year of Barrett Brown's falling out with Julian Assange and who tipped him off about Assange’s imminent arrest.
Cover Image: Julian Assange on May 19, 2017. (Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire, Press Association via AP Images)