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Former Ecuador president says Assange arrested for exposing corruption

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After seven years in Ecuador’s embassy in London, Julian Assange was arrested Thursday morning following a decision by Ecuador’s president to revoke his asylum.

In a video announcement on Twitter, President Lenin Moreno decried “discourteous and aggressive behavior” by Assange and “hostile and threatening declarations” by WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group Assange founded.

“Ecuador has fulfilled its obligations in the framework of international law” during Assange’s time in the embassy, Moreno said. “On the other hand, Mr. Assange violated, repeatedly, clear cut provisions of the conventions on diplomatic asylum.”

Assange’s behavior and that of WikiLeaks may be the most proximate cause of his expulsion, but his ouster comes after years of international and domestic political wrangling between Moreno and his predecessor, Rafael Correa, who granted Assange asylum in 2012.

Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno with former President Rafael Correa during Moreno’s inauguration in Quito, May 24, 2017.
REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

Correa held the office between 2007 and 2017, and Moreno, his vice president from 2007 to 2013, won the presidency with Correa’s support. They fell out shortly afterward, however, with Correa accusing Moreno of betraying the ideals of Correa’s “21st century socialism.”

“If it’s not the culmination, it’s the continuation of two years of Moreno trying to undo Correa policies,” John Polga-Hecimovich, a political-science professor at the US Naval Academy and expert on Latin America, told Business Insider on Thursday.

“But obviously it’s not just a response to Correa,” Polga-Hecimovich added. “It has its own origins based on Assange’s actions and treatment of Ecuadorian diplomatic staff and action in continuing to leak information.”

Assange has clashed with his hosts several times. Ecuador has cut his internet over his comments on matters in other countries, and Assange has sued Ecuador, alleging that limiting his communications violated his rights.

In March 2018, after Assange challenged the UK’s assertion that Russia poisoned a former double agent and his daughter in England, Ecuador again cut Assange’s internet, saying he violated “a written commitment … not to issue messages that might interfere with other states.”

More recently, Assange accused Ecuador of spying on him, and WikiLeaks said Ecuadorian authorities secretly filmed his meetings with lawyers and doctors.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on the balcony of the Embassy of Ecuador in London, May 19, 2017
Reuters

In March, Moreno himself was accused of corrupt dealings stemming from documents called the INA Papers, which allegedly documented Moreno’s family receipt of payoffs from a Chinese company that built a hydroelectric dam in Ecuador.

Ecuador’s national assembly has pursued an investigation regarding the papers, and Moreno has pushed back, blaming WikiLeaks for intercepting his private communications and “photos of my bedroom, what I eat, and how my wife and daughters and friends dance.”

He did not present evidence backing up that accusation. WikiLeaks called it “completely bogus” and suggested Moreno was attempting to put more pressure on Assange.

“There’s a suspicion that WikiLeaks contributed to the leaking of documents that seemed to have been stolen from Moreno and his wife’s phone when they were in Geneva,” Polga-Hecimovich said. “So it’s not a stretch to imagine that this [asylum revocation] is also a somewhat direct reaction to that.”

Correa also seized on the scandal in the wake of Assange’s expulsion, tweeting that the WikiLeaks founder was stripped of asylum “for exposing Pres. Lenin Moreno’s corruption” and sharing a bank account he alleged was “Moreno’s secret account (money laundering).”

Moreno’s government previously accused Correa of taking money from Venezuela in exchange for trying to destabilize Ecuador’s, which Correa denied. Moreno’s reversal of relations with Venezuela, which Correa embraced, is one major issue that has divided the former friends, as are Moreno’s efforts to improve ties with the US.

Guillermo Granja/REUTERS

“Clearly [Vice President Mike] Pence visiting Ecuador last summer — and they spoke about Assange among other things — that doesn’t seem coincidental to me either,” Polga-Hecimovich said. “Moreno is on the same page with the United States, and he needs to be because he just secured IMF funding, and he wants US support for other things in order to help the country economically.”

Correa has been implicated in multiple investigations in Ecuador since leaving office and now lives in Belgium, where his wife was born, effectively in exile. But he remains the country’s most important politician and doesn’t appear to be politically dead, Polga-Hecimovich said.

That’s in contrast with Moreno, whose party did poorly in recent elections and who isn’t seeking reelection. Moreno “seems to no have further political ambitions beyond simply finishing his term,” Polga-Hecimovich said.

“As a result, it’s hard to imagine political consequences [from Assange’s expulsion] that could hurt him, simply because his own future won’t be tied to it,” Polga-Hecimovich said, pointing to Moreno’s announcement, which seemed to indicate an awareness of any potential repercussions, including revelations or accusations by WikiLeaks.

“My government has nothing to fear and does not act under threats,” Moreno said in the video. “Ecuador is guided by the principals of law … and protects the interests of Ecuadorians.”

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