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Witness questions validity of prosecution against Julian Assange

A former Swedish prosecutor thinks the extradition order against Julian Assange is flawed. The witness told the court that the WikiLeaks founder should not have been named, and could have been questioned in Britain.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (C) accompanied by Jennifer Robinson (R), a member of his legal team, and Kristinn Hrafnsson (L) a spokesman for WikiLeaks

It's Assange's last day in court - for now at least

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's extradition hearing in London entered its second and final day on Tuesday.

The 39-year-old Australian is contesting a Swedish extradition order on sexual misconduct charges, and a key defense witness told the courtroom that he thinks prosecutors in Sweden failed to follow proper procedure while investigating the case.

Sven-Erik Alhem, a former Swedish prosecutor turned legal commentator, said that the chief prosecutor Marianne Ny could have questioned Assange via videophone while he was in Britain, rather than issuing an extradition order.

"I don't really understand why you could not hear Julian Assange here in this country, if the British authorities allowed such a hearing to take place," Alhem, appearing as a witness for Assange, told the Belmarsh Magistrates' Court.

Alhem also said it was unusual for Swedish prosecutors to name a suspect in a sex crime case, when it's standard legal practice to keep their identities secret and try them behind closed doors.

The prosecution team says that Assange was invited on several occasions between September and October last year to respond to the charges against him, having been informed that an interview via phone or videolink would not suffice, given the seriousness of the charges against him.

A computer screen, with a magnifying glass in front of it, highlighting the beginning of WikiLeaks' so-called 'Afghan War Diary'

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"It must have been crystal clear to Julian Assange since the arrest warrant of September 27 that we were extremely anxious to interview him," Marianne Ny said in legal papers quoted as evidence in the trial.

Verdict may be subject to delay, and appeal

Assange is accused of having sex with two women without using condoms, in one case when the woman was sleeping, crimes which prosecutors say classify as the least severe of three categories of rape under Swedish law.

The computer expert's lawyers argue that extradition is an excessive measure, especially given that he has not yet been charged with a crime. They also contest that Assange might face further extradition to the US after arriving in Sweden.

WikiLeaks' dissemination of classified US documents on the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as a tranche of secret diplomatic cables, has infuriated Washington; the US government is examining whether criminal charges can be leveled against Assange in response.

However, defense witness Sven-Erik Alhem said on Tuesday that he did not think it likely that Assange would be sent to the US.

"I believe it's impossible Mr. Assange could be extradited to the US without a complete media storm," the legal commentator said. "I would write three articles myself."

Judge Howard Riddle is not obliged to give a verdict on Tuesday, and may defer his decision until later this month. If the court were to rule in favor of extraditing the WikiLeaks founder, Assange would still be free to appeal.

Author: Mark Hallam (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Rob Turner

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