Quito, May 18 (IANS) Ecuador has announced an immediate withdrawal of additional security forces at its embassy in London where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is living, following claims that $5 million was spent to protect him.
In a statement on Thursday, the National Secretariat of Communication (Secom) said President Lenin Moreno ordered additional security teams of the embassy to be “withdrawn immediately”, the BBC reported.
The money was used to monitor Assange’s visitors, embassy staff and UK police, according to reports.
Assange has been at the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012 after being granted asylum.
He fled there to avoid extradition to Sweden over sex crime allegations, which he denies. The Swedish authorities have since dropped their investigation, but Britain is still seeking his arrest for breaching bail conditions.
Assange, 46, believes he will be extradited to the US for questioning over the activities of WikiLeaks if he leaves the building.
He set up Wikileaks, which publishes confidential documents and images, in 2006 — making headlines around the world in April 2010 when it released footage showing US soldiers shooting dead 18 civilians from a helicopter in Iraq.
According to Secom, Ecuador’s embassy in London will now carry out normal security procedures “similar to the rest of Ecuadorian embassies in the world”.
The measure was announced after The Guardian daily on Tuesday published an article saying that the Ecuadorian government had spent at least $5 million on a “spy operation” to “protect” Assange.
In March, Ecuador cut Assange’s Internet connection at the London embassy, preventing him from “interfering in other countries’ affairs”.
It came after Assange had questioned accusations that Moscow was responsible for the poisoning of a Russian ex-spy and his daughter in the UK on March 4.
In May, 2017, Moreno asked Assange to refrain from expressing his public support for the independence campaign in Spain’s Catalonia region after he tweeted that Madrid was guilty of “repression”.
Assange’s Twitter account is now being run by his legal campaign.