LONDON (AFP) ― WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was Monday arranging to meet with British police, his lawyer said, as the net tightened around the man behind the release of a hoard of secret U.S. diplomatic cables.
Swedish authorities want to quiz the elusive 39-year-old Australian ― whose website is in the process of releasing tens of thousands of U.S. cables ― on suspicion of crimes including rape.
Assange’s lawyer, Mark Stephens, said British police had telephoned him to say they have received an extradition request from Sweden.
Stephens told AFP the meeting would be with British police and would take place in Britain ― although he refused to confirm widespread rumors that Assange was already in the country.
“The arrangements I have been making are for him to come and meet the British police,” said Stephens, without giving a date for the interview.
The news came after a court in Stockholm issued an arrest warrant for Assange on Nov. 18 for questioning on suspicion of “rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion” in Sweden in August.
Assange has denied the charges and Stephens said Sunday that the pursuit of his client had “political motivations”.
Earlier Monday, Swiss authorities shut down one of Assange’s bank accounts with the Swiss Post Office’s banking arm saying he had provided false information in his application.
“PostFinance has ended its business relationship with WikiLeaks founder Julian Paul Assange,” the bank said in a statement.
WikiLeaks had advertised the PostFinance account details online to “donate directly to the Julian Assange and other WikiLeaks Staff Defense Fund,” giving an account name of “Assange Julian Paul, Geneve.”
Meanwhile, a French judge declined to force web provider OVH to shut down the WikiLeaks site, after the government called for it to be kicked out of France.
“OVH is neither for nor against this site. ... We neither asked to host this site nor not to host it. Now that it’s with us, we will fulfill the contract. That’s our job,” OVH’s managing director Octave Klaba said.
French Industry Minister Eric Besson demanded WikiLeaks be banned from French servers after the site took refuge there on Thursday, after being expelled from the United States.
In one of its most explosive leaks of U.S. secrets so far, WikiLeaks on Monday divulged a list of key infrastructure sites around the world that, if attacked by terrorists, could critically harm U.S. security.
The website released a State Department cable from February 2009 asking U.S. missions to update a list of infrastructure and key resources whose loss “could critically impact” the country’s public health, economic life and national security.
The list detailed undersea cables, key communications, ports, mineral resources and firms of strategic importance in countries ranging from Britain to New Zealand, via Africa, the Middle East and China.
Also listed were European manufacturers of vaccines for smallpox and rabies, an Italian maker of treatment for snake-bite venom, and a German company making treatment for plutonium poisoning.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday she regretted the latest release.
“I will underscore that this theft of U.S. government information and its publication without regard for the consequences is deeply distressing,” Clinton told reporters.
“The illegal publication of classified information poses real concerns and even potential damage to our friends and partners” worldwide, she warned.
The release added to the political storm engulfing WikiLeaks and Assange, with the website already battling to secure avenues for financial donations, and left to hop-scotch across servers to evade a total shutdown.
Among its latest revelations:
― the U.S. has faced an uphill battle in trying to prevent arms from reaching the likes of Iran, Syria and North Korea. In one cable, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is reprimanded for supplying sophisticated weapons to the Shiite militant group Hezbollah one week after providing assurances he would not;
― European Union President Herman Van Rompuy told a U.S. ambassador that Europe no longer believed in Afghanistan and that 2010 may be the last chance for success;
― France and the United States have been cooperating more closely for a year in the fight against an al-Qaida unit in north Africa.