Spanish Police Probe Extortion Scheme Involving Surveillance on Assange

UPDATED: Suspects are being investigated in Spain for having tried to extort €3 million from WikiLeaks in exchange for a huge cache of documents and surveillance videos of Assange inside Ecuador’s London embassy, including with his doctors and lawyers.

By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News

A Spanish judge is investigating an alleged extortion scheme in which suspects in Madrid offered video and audio surveillance to the editor of WikiLeaks in exchange for €3 million, WikiLeaks said on Wednesday.

The surveillance was taken over the past year inside the Ecuador embassy in London where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has legally been granted political asylum since 2012, said Kristinn Hrafnsson, the WikiLeaks editor, at a press conference in the British capital.  Included in the “trove” of material was a copy of a legal document regarding Assange’s defense strategy that was briefly left behind in a conference room in the embassy, Hrafnsson said.

“It is a grave and serious concern when legal meetings are being spied upon and legal documents are stolen,” he said. “That is something that not even prisoners have to endure.” 

Assange was also filmed being examined by his doctor in the embassy, Hrafnsson said. “Nobody expected that this was recorded and stored and found its way to some dubious individuals in Spain,” he said.

Fidel Narváez, Kristinn Hrafnsson and Jennifer Robinson at Wednesday’s press conference. (Ruptly/YouTube screenshot.)

Jennifer Robinson, Assange’s lawyer, called it a breach of attorney-client privilege. “The documents you have seen [presented at the press conference] demonstrates just how much surveillance he has been under and it is a breach of confidence for us, his lawyers, and his doctors to provide medical care in the embassy,” Robinson said. “This is a severe breach of attorney-client privilege and fundamentally undermines our ability to defend and provide defense to Julian Assange.”

Hrafnsson communicated with the alleged extortioners and was given samples of what they possessed, the WikiLeaks editor said. He then traveled to Spain and secretly videotaped a meeting with “four individuals” in which Hrafnsson learned the extent of the material that they possessed. They told him that €3 million was “a good deal” as they had had offers of €9 million for the material. Hrafnsson then went to the Spanish police who opened an investigation. He said he knew the identity of one of the four who had a prior conviction on similar charges and was seen as the “ringleader.”

 Sting Operation

Aitor Martinez, the Assange lawyer who said he’d briefly left the legal document in the embassy conference room that was copied, then took part in a sting operation with the police. He wore a wire as he met with the alleged extortioners in Madrid, Hrafnsson said.  A full investigation by a special extortion team was then opened and the case is now in the hands of an investigative judge, he said.  

“Extortion is a serious matter,” Hrafnsson said, “but of greater concern to me is that this is material gathered by spying by the government of Lenin Moreno and officials who work on his behalf against an individual who was granted diplomatic protection by the Ecuadorian government.”

In an apparent reference to Moreno, Hrafnsson said: “We know from reports that this is the work of one person to service the interests of the United States government who want to indict and imprison a publisher for the crime of publishing truthful material.”  

Robinson said WikiLeaks would file a “fresh complaint” to the UN special rapporteur on privacy rights, who has said he will visit Assange on April 25.  The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer will also visit Assange that day, WikiLeaks said.

Robinson criticized the British government for being poised to arrest and extradite Assange to the United States. “That a government would cooperate with another state to extradite a publisher for publishing truthful information outside its territory sets a dangerous precedent here in the UK and elsewhere,” she said. “No one can deny that risk. That is why he sought asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy.”

Fidel Narváez, the former Ecuadorian consul at the embassy who said he saw Assange everyday for six years, told the press conference: “I very much hope that what we presented today will break the shield that currently the Ecuadorian government has built in my country…aided by the Ecuadorian press that is not doing what it should do to challenge and question the government.” He added: “There is lots of misinformation about Julian’s asylum but one thing is clear: the new government of Ecuador is not protecting Julian Assange anymore as it should.”

Diplomat Fired 

On Friday WikiLeaks tweeted that a “high-level” source in the Ecuador government told WikiLeaks that Assange’s expulsion and arrest would come in “hours to days.” That set off a worldwide reaction of Assange supporters as well as by UN special rapporteurs. Heavily armed police have roamed the environs of the embassy, and people in unmarked cars have been parked outside, either as a form of intimidation or on standby waiting for orders to move in.

 “The only reason it hasn’t happened yet is because of the international shame that will be attached to Ecuador if it does so,” Narváez said.  “The government is clearly building a case to end the asylum and what we’ve seen here is the basis for that.”   

WikiLeaks on Tuesday said that Ecuador had fired a diplomat from the embassy, accusing him of being “close” to Assange. The tweet implied that the diplomat may have been WikiLeak’s source about Assange’s imminent expulsion and arrest.

The central question that remains is who had access to the surveillance material and then transferred it to the alleged extortioners. “I don’t know very much about that,” Hrafnsson said. “I assume that will be part of the investigation by the Spanish police authorities and by the Spanish lawyers. However we do have more material that I recorded in Spain and it will possibly cast more light on that chain—how it ended up in Spain. We will make it available online shortly. [But] I don’t want to speculate how that came about.”

The Ecuadorian government had prime possession of surveillance and the British and U.S. governments could have also obtained it, given their close contacts with Ecuador on Assange.   However there would be little apparent motive for these governments to have made the surveillance known.

“Let’s remember that Julian Assange is not serving a sentence, he doesn’t have charges,” Narváez said. “He is a political refugee. Political refugees do not lose rights. On the contrary, they should have their rights protected.”

The following is the full video of the one-hour press conference held in London on Wednesday:

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston GlobeSunday Times of London and numerous other newspapers. He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @unjoe .

17 comments for “Spanish Police Probe Extortion Scheme Involving Surveillance on Assange

  1. Halit
    April 11, 2019 at 21:37

    It seams USA expect nobody should critisize illegal invasions,murder of innocen and plotting regime change against whichever country he chooses and anyone including messenger delivery these truth and reveil these criminal activities would be prosecuted.
    Why type of democracy would do such a things? No price for guessing which role model democratic country is it.

  2. Linda Lewis
    April 11, 2019 at 14:07

    This calls to mind the break-in at Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office. The incident led a judge to dismiss the government’s case.

  3. Malcolm Samuel
    April 11, 2019 at 12:49

    I think the whole thing, with the Ecuador embassy, and UK and US Governments is a disgrace.

    But this also shows what kind of “snakes” the new Ecuador Government houses, along with the people who would benefit financially from Assange’s illegal captivity.

  4. Jennifer Ortiz
    April 11, 2019 at 05:14

    Anyone who places dignity as a human right should feel violated upon reading of the video and audio surveillance
    of Julian Assange. It is really revolting.
    Shame on you Lenin Moreno, shame on you: USA, UK and Sweden. We live in a world where truth is a threat.
    Dr. J Ortiz

    • Frederike
      April 11, 2019 at 19:19

      The trouble is: they do not care about their shame. It means nothing to them., since they do not know what shame means. It is not in their consciousness. They do not care about being reminded of what it means to be an intelligent human and what any human moral and ethical responsibility entails. Getting paid for whatever they do is their only guide, as if they could live forever.
      No ethics are involved. Ethics have gone out the window (If they ever existed, which I doubt) a long time ago, and they are subject to jokes. I have learned that the hard way, believe me.

  5. Spong Bob
    April 11, 2019 at 05:08

    This story, now about 20 hours old, has not yet appeared on The Washington Post, The New York Time, or The BBC.

    An interesting media blackout.

  6. Joe Tedesky
    April 10, 2019 at 22:30

    What in the world is going on with Spain? First the Spanish investigation of the N Korea Embassy Break in by contractors of the CIA (supposedly encouraged by Bolton) and now this Extortion Scheme aimed at Assange.

    It’s a good thing that websites such as the Consortium keep us all updated on the Assange confinement hold up in the Ecuadorian Embassy because the corporate MSM has completely ignored this attack against freedom of the press. For journalist to deny they’re supporting of Assange is certainly disturbing on so many levels to explain what a free press is all about when it’s own journalistic members trade in they’re journalistic credentials to spread the corporate propaganda as if it were the truth. It must be stressed these journalists are what keeps Julian Assange prisoner to an overzealous inverted fascist type hierarchy who calls all the shots.

    • Tim Jones
      April 11, 2019 at 01:09

      Great comment Joe: These journalists are what keeps Assange prisoner…If they speak up though, they fear losing their careers. Some may want to support Assange but supporting a family with kids and losing a job because of it, stops them dead. There has never truly been a free press since the formation of NSA/CIA or even before that.

      • nobody
        April 15, 2019 at 04:39

        Some journalists and commentators are well paid (paid-off?) and don’t want to stop cashing in.
        And some are just like you say. Supporting a family with kids. If survival is an issue for a journalist, it’s not surprising they choose to be silent.
        What I can’t understand are the willfully blind journos and stenographers who ignore history as if things like this have never happened before, and as if the rest of the countries on the planet aren’t interconnected in ways that just don’t get reported on.

  7. Sam F
    April 10, 2019 at 20:28

    Ecuador’s Moreno and the US dictatorship of the rich have certainly dirtied their hands and disgraced themselves now, while Narváez, Hrafnsson and Robinson rise to deserved prominence. Martinez, Melzer, and Joe Lauria deserve great credit as well. The government of Spain has shown remarkable concern for international injustice, far more than the US has shown since WWII.

    The London embassy of Spain is a 9-minute walk from that of Ecuador, and that of Denmark is only 3 minutes, so I suggest a refreshing stopover there. Embassies can be a bit tiresome after a few years, but some are far better than others. Perhaps the Danes, Spain, or others will extend their protection and even send an ambassador with an invitation, a special diplomatic force. I believe that they have a bilateral cooperation treaty with UK if not Ecuador, as well as the ability to extend their own protection. Or they could demand the arrest and rendition (by themselves) of Assange to their embassy for shoplifting, and forgive him as their state reception begins. Why not, Spain and Denmark?

  8. Jill
    April 10, 2019 at 18:45

    This behavior is consistent w/the way detainees are treated in Gitmo. I was dismayed by the “press” who covered this informational press conference. Instead of reckoning with the actual information presented by the panel, as well as its horrifying implications for every non state approved journalist, most questioners proceeded to attack Assange and Wikileaks. There was even a truly bizarre question about how Russia had given the info to Assange who had published it to get Trump elected. Aside from the fact that this allegation has been disproved many times over, even if the “reporter” still wished to believe such lies, this line of questioning is irrelevant.

    The problem w/spying on Assange is grave. I really wanted to ask several of these press lackeys how they would feel if they would be fine with having their conversations with their attorney recorded, stored and presented to others without their knowledge or consent. Remember, they don’t get to choose the times the conversations are recorded or who that info goes to. Are they also fine with having their legal strategy given to the state? How also, do they feel about their doctor-patient conversations being recorded at behest of someone else who then takes full control of that information and releases it to whomever that person wishes.

    There is also the issue of parallel construction at work. Further neither Assange’s lawyers, doctor or friends made any consent to this intrusion into their lives or work.

    There is evidence that almost everyone in so called “democracies” are given this level of surveillance in our lives. Parallel construction works against many people and has been used successfully many times. However, what is clear in this case is the incredibly thorough and sophisticated apparatus of state surveillance being brought to bear against a member of the press. That so many of Assange’s fellow “reporters” were fine with what is happening with him is truly worrying/disgusting.

    We should not accept this intrusion into Assange’s life nor our own life. We should speak out against this horrifying abuse of power and not forget what the USG has done to those in Gitmo. Gitmo is the end stage, Assange is a middle stage, and mass surveillance is the tool of the state to impose its injustice.

  9. April 10, 2019 at 18:27

    i thank you profusely for essentially providing the the transcript of the presser, joe. how ugly it all is, but i wonder how far the police in spain will actually investigate due to ecuador’s gripes about wikileaks having featured news about the catalan separatists.

    i love that you’ve featured mike gravel’s quest to be on the debated stage as well, and wonder if you might also feature Green Party candidate howie hawkins. most of this diary i pasted together i from bruce dixon at black agenda report, but i stuck in a lot of howie’s amazing tweets and policy position tweets toward the end of the comment stream.

    this isn’t my home website, which is café babylon , but i do cross-post here as the commentariat is much larger.

  10. mike k
    April 10, 2019 at 16:59

    The liars who rule over the US are so sure of their hold over the minds of the populace, that they don’t even bother to hide their obvious criminal activities. We must do everything we can to make people aware of their machinations.

    • Sam F
      April 10, 2019 at 20:42

      Ecuador’s Moreno and the US dictatorship of the rich have certainly dirtied their hands and disgraced themselves now, while Narváez, Hrafnsson and Robinson rise to deserved prominence. Martinez, Melzer, and Joe Lauria deserve great credit as well. The government of Spain has shown remarkable concern for international injustice, more than the US has shown since WWII.

      Embassies can be a bit tiresome after a few years, but some are far better than others. The London embassy of Ecuador is only a 3-minute walk from that of Ecuador, and that of Spain only 9 minutes. I believe that Denmark and Spain have bilateral legal assistance treaties (MLATs) with UK, and could demand his rendition for shoplifting, and send an ambassador and special diplomatic forces team with the invitation in an armored vehicle and motorcade, and forgive him just as the state reception begins. Then perhaps its is Spain’s turn. Why not, Denmark and Spain? You would be heroes of the free world.

      • Sam F
        April 10, 2019 at 20:52

        The embassy of Russia is 10 minutes away by motorcade, appears amenable to restricting pursuers of motorcades, and would be a charming place to learn Russian enroute to meet Ed Snowden. But of course that would be playing into the hands of Russiagaters.

      • Sam F
        April 10, 2019 at 21:00

        No, I’m wrong, Russia could demand his arrest and rendition for interfering with elections in Russia, on the grounds that Wikileaks sometimes mentions Russia, and realizing their error upon arrival there, provide him a nice place in Crimea to continue his work.

  11. April 10, 2019 at 16:07

    Repetition of Leninism after carefully separating it from Marxism turns to be a farce. As predicted. Nevertheless, reality once again exceeds capabilities of satire.

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