Press conference about the Julian Assange case by Eva Joly (abbreviated EJ), MEP, former Presidential candidate, former judge and prosecutor, head of the EU Parliamentary Committee on Development. Joly has thirty years of experience as a practitioner and is currently involved in developing the policy on international cooperation to do with the appointment of a European prosecutor.
Others present: Jon Thorisson, of the Eva Joly Institute in Iceland (abbreviated JT)
EJ: Thank you for coming. I think I should start by telling you where I am talking from. why I am interested in this case. i think that the first reason is that I have been a judge and an investigator myself for some 25 years. I was first a prosecutor and I was then and investigating magistrate. And I have carried out probably successfully, one of the most important financial investigations ever done in Europe. That was the ELF case that was done from 1994 until I ended it in 2002 and people were convicted in 2003. So this means that I am a practitioner, so I know how international cooperation works and how it does work from the inside. I have been working with it for years and I have been fighting with it. And I decided in 2002 to try to change the world from Norway. i worked in Norway for eight years on development issues and on anti-corruption issues and also to improve international cooperation.
And then I became an EMP - a Member of the European Parliament in 2009, and that I did to fight, to continue to fight corruption, money laundering, and to improve legal cooperation. And I am heading in the European Parliament the Committee on Development and Human Aid. I am heading the committee on support for democracy. And I am involved on the reflection on the creation of a special prosecutor in Europe. Meaning that I am engaged in these issues for more than thirty years. So this is my background.
And so - Why Julian Assange? One of the reasons is that I was impressed when WikiLeaks started up in 2006, by what they published, what we learned about the world that we are living in, and also because of hazards of life - when I was conducting the investigation into the banking crisis in Iceland in 2009 to 2011 I met with Julian Assange who was in Iceland in 2010. I think it was Spring 2010. And at that time there was a special atmosphere in Iceland because of the crisis they had been through, because of their democratic wake up. How was it that the bankers could have driven them into bankrupcy and no one has seen anything. And you'll remember there were new elections and a will to change a lot of things. And Julian Assange came up with the idea that we could make Iceland a safe haven for information. Because as journalists you will know that you cannot publish everything, that you are exposed to libel, and that if you are a UK journalist you are also exposed to injunctions, and to secret injunctions not to talk about certain subjects. And this idea got huge echo in Iceland. It was called the Modern Media Initiative. To make Iceland a place that is the contrary of a tax haven - a paradise for information. And this project is still ongoing, and Jon [Thorisson] who is with me is on the board of this project.
So this is how I met with Assange the first time. And then in 2010 - that was the same year - when I read about the Swedish story I was shocked and - how to say it - I trusted that the Swedish legal system, which is very robust and which has long democratic traditions - that they wouldfind ways forward, and that they would be able to conduct this case within a reasonable time. And I went to see Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy a year ago. Just to have his news. And I saw how he lived - locked up in an embassy - a small space to live in, and I was then worried about his situation. And I started digging much more into it. And I thought something must happen this year, and nothing happened. And I went back to meet with him one month ago, and I found then that his appearance and his health situation had degradated from the year before. And then I decided that something must be done. We cannot go on with this situation that is locked. The arrest order, sent out by the Swedish prosecution authorities was three and a half years ago. So what is important today is to have a new look on it.
We have a situation where we have legitimate interests on both sides. We have the situations of the victims, that must be taken care of. I do not have an opinion on the responsibilities of guilt - who is guilty and who is not guilty. That is not my purpose. What I want to see is that we must find a solution and I think I know the solution. The arrest order is three and a half years old. And everything goes on like the Swedish prosecution service does not take seriously that Ecuador has granted asylum. And that this asylum means that the danger that JA alleged as to the threat he faces regarding an extradition to the US is real - that is what it means. And if you read the newspapers and gather all the information that there is - there is tonnes of information that there is an ongoing investigation in the US into WikiLeaks, the founders of WikiLeaks and into JA himself and that they try to have him judged as an accomplice of terrorism and spying, espionage - rather than being a publisher of what other people are sending to his platform. And this is a threat to all the journalists in the world - if you are in possession of documents by a source and that is in the public interest, you could be called an accomplice of terrorism. I think this is not a world that we want.
And this situation was judged by Ecuador to be sufficiently serious to grant him asylum. So this I cannot see why JA should give up his human rights to ask for asylum in order to answer questions by the Swedish prosecutors here in Sweden. And we do not know what the prosecutors will do with the case and to take the risk of having an extradition order then coming to Sweden. And when I see that the prosecutor says "we know that he cannot be extradited" - I think they are talking about what they do not know. It's none of their business. The prosecutor doesn't have a word to say about the extradition. This is for the government to decide and then for the courts, but not for the prosecutor at this stage. And so I think here there are some misunderstandings so we've taken into account that JA has the right to ask for asylum and that is a serious decision that the Swedish prosecution cannot just take [and say] "well I do not care about this, he should come here" and we have the [alleged] victims rights, their human rights to have their case tried. Because they also need to move on with their lives. They have been waiting for four years.
And then, in our common toolbox in Europe we have tools that do allow for international cooperation. It's not a big deal. In the ELF case I went abroad to interrogate a suspect that had fled France, that didn't want to come back, and I managed to interrogate him in Israel for instance, we had no convention but we made an ad hoc agreement with the authorities and this was done. We had the convention from 1959 of European cooperation and now we have a much better convention that is from 2000 that entered into force in 2005 (32:03) and which has modernised and made international cooperation much more efficient. And I can say that the UK was known for not cooperating easily but that has changed also. Today this cooperation is much easier. And I can [say] that because I didn't stop doing investigating work in 2002 because i conducted, set up and I helped the Icelandic investigation into their banksters. And you know that today this is the only country in the world that is putting their bankers [before a] court and obtaining convictions.
And we used this new European convention and we obtained cooepration from Luxemburg which had a very bad record in legal international cooperation and the most important [inaudible - house search?] that were made in Luxembourg were made from Iceland. So thiese new tools are working. So why shouldn't the Swedish prosecutor use the tools that are in the toolbox? This is not a special treatment for Julian Assange. This is for anybody who is abroad and who refuses to come back if you don't use the arrest order. The arrest order - this is the bazooka. You use the cooperation [tools] to get this information. And then if we did that, then maybe later on it would be needed to make confrontations with the [alleged] victims and other witnesses, and we I would say that this could be done by videoconference even if it's not foreseen in the law book. This is done at the International Court of Justice when the witnesses are in danger, this is done on a daily basis in all the courts in Europe and I did in my important cases in the ninetees. It was not foreseen in the lawbook but I did it in a creative way, making sure who the witness was, the date, and the Surpeme Court accepted it. Today it is in the law books.
Things are not today like they used to be yesterday, and we cannot live only saying "I can't do anything that I didn't do yesterday". You have to live with the modern tools that you have, and if Swedish law does not foresee it then the law should be changed. Maybe that could be changed in an urgent way, or judges can just do it and see what happens. I mean the Supreme Court could allow that. And then when the preliminary work is finished - interrogations, confrontations, then the decision can be taken: either there is a case to answer or there is not a case to answer.
Let's take the scenario where there is a case to answer: then the Swedish prosecution service can send it to the Swedish courts, and Swedish law does not foresee in absentia judgments. But this we didn't do in France either for serious crimes but when we judged our former president, Jacques Chirac, he said "I'm too tired to come, but I want the court case to move on and I do accept to be judged in a [adverserial] way with my lawyers being present and I have told you everything I know". And so it was done in spite of the fact that in the lawbook it was said that he should be present. And then you must remember - why does this rule exist? It exists because of the protection of the suspect, to ensure the [adversarial] process, and I [contend] that if the lawyers of Assange are present at the process and Julian Assange himself [participates] by [video]link by Skype or video conference, this could be a good process and we would take care of all the interest of the interested parties: not sacrificing Julian Assange's right to have asylum for the right of the [alleged] victims to have their case tried.
And if this solution is not agreeable to the Swedish prosecutors they could use another tool in the toolbox that we have made because it is useful and that I have used myself - that is a delegation of the public action. They could send their files to Ecuador and ask Ecuadorian justice to take the case. So I thank you now - this is a way..
Q: Just to clarify that you say that the case could be tried in Ecuadorian courts?
EJ: It can be. And then one more element and then I'll stop talking and I'll leave the floor to you. We also have agreements for serving the sentence. If he was judged in Sweden, and he was convicted to imprisonment, he can serve his sentence elsewhere. All this is possible. I have seen from the debate here in Sweden that most people did not believe in the reality of the danger that Assange was exposed to. I think that it's paramount today that there is a debate in Swedish society, because the world has really changed with Snowden. With what Snowden tells us about the general surveillance of all of us, and also more specifically about Assange. And I am sure you know this TV interview he said on German television - he said that Assange is on a Manhunting list.
And you might remember that eminent members of the [US] Senate have asked for Assange to be tried for spying, for terrorism, I am thinking about Dianne Feinstein who said that. And this is not a nobody. She is a very important member of the American senate and I do recommend you to read her speech held in the Senate some two weeks ago where she told the world and also Swedish journalists that the CIA and also the American agencies are not playing by the rules. And that they have gone into the computers in the Senate and that they have suppressed some photos and pages about the CIA not respecting the rules. And I think we have difficulties in understanding how much the world has changed with all the information that we got from Assange and from Snowden. And I think it is an urgency that this situation that is a bleeding wound and I think it is not good for anybody, and there are means to solve it taking into account the interests of all the parties. Thank you.
Q Can you tell us about your attempts to discuss this with the relevant Swedish officials, especially the prosecutor in charge and the chief prosecutor?
EJ: It's very easy to tell: I have asked to meet wiht the minister of Justice, with the Chief Prosecutor and with Marianne Ny and nobody wants to meet with me. And I am wondering why. I am an honourable person.
Q: Have you encountered that sort of blaze reaction anywhere else? Is this unusual?
EJ: Normally when I as a member of the European Parliament, a head of a Committee, in charge of 59 billion euro/year ask for an appointment- I get it.
Q: Do you draw any conclusions from this?
EJ: That this is a very difficult question, and in a way, that I am here in my own quality. Nobody is paying me. I'm using my own time. And I hope, European money. This is a European issue. It is a European issue. It shows that we need better cooperation. If we cannot solve this problem between England and Sweden - how do we think that we can solve problems with Afghanistan, or Turkey, or a lot of other countries. I also forgot to tell you that I am working in Afghanistan and that I am not at all an anti-militaristic person. I went to a military school. I did the Institute of Superior military studies in France. And I am working in Afghanistan as an anti-corruption person. I was appointed by the UN and I am working very closely with Americans who risk their lives and I have sensitivity to all these questions.
Q: How would you describe your personal relationship to Mr. Assange? Are you a personal friend of his?
EJ: It was inexistent until - this is totally transparent, I want to be totally transparent - I met with him the first time in Iceland. And I felt that we had common views on how damaging secrecy is to the world.Because I spent my life fighting against tax havens. Seeing how criminal many banks are - how they are stealing, how they are allowing themselves to take a huge percentage of the produced value every year - this was my fight. And I also met... because I met a journalist, because I follow cases in Africa - for instance the Trafigura case with the - what was the name of the boat - Probokwala (?) I think - this went to Ivory coast and spread a lot of toxic waste there I followed it because I was interested. And all of a sudden the Guardian stopped talking about it. And then they went to the British parliament to ask a question because you have immunity in the House of Commons. And they had a question that they asked in Parliament about Trafigura. And then we learned that there was a secret injunction for all the press to talk about this case. So I was very sensitive to the idea of making Iceland a safe haven for information. So this was - he was sympathetic to me. And then when I learned about this story here in Sweden I was - as everybody else - shocked. And I wanted this to be investigated and I hoped in the bootom of my heart that he would be cleared. But I was not sure - you cannot be sure- so what I am saying is that htis case should come to an end.
Q: But you would not describe Assange as a friend, a personal friend of yours?
EJ: No. I am not. I am not. I mean - there is a generational problem. I know that I am looking very young and beautiful but I am seventy years old and he is forty I think.
Q: Are you in any way optimistic that the Swedish investigators could change their mind?
EJ: What I am optimistic about is you. I think that you will understand. And that you will write articles that will make the public opinion understand that this is not a Swedish issue. That this is an international issue.
Q: But you know that the prosecutors have already disregarded the idea of a video link? The question has been [raised] before.
EJ: Yes, but I I do not like situations where the will [16:47] of one person can stop a whole process. I like when there are appeals. And I think there is not such a thing as "This is what I want to do and this is how it shall be". This is not democratic.
Q: You are referring to Marianne Ny?
EJ: Yes, well - she had the right to conduct the case the way she wanted for four years. It has gone nowhere.
JT: She also has a responsibility to contribute to a solution. If her current policy is not working and the case is not moving forward she has an obligation. Because in the end it is a human rights issue that everybody involved in the case has a right to a satisfactory conclusion to the case. And it's not just Assange but it's also the two girls.
EJ: That is article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
JT: And repeating the same solution and expecting different results is not working.
EJ: What I do expect is the head of the Swedish prosecution should take the case himself.
Q: Have you discussed this at all with Assange's Swedish lawyers?
EJ: No I haven't met wiht the Swedish lawyers. I am not Assange's lawyer. I am talking from my own platform, with my thirty years of experience in this business, and seeing it from many angles. I could have met with his lawyers. They will give you their version. I am giving you a version of a member of the European Parliament that is sensitive to human rights. If you look me up you will also see that I am defending Basmah Belaid - the widow of Mr. Belaid who was killed in Tunisia. In the same way, talking about the importance of getting the case to court. Maybe one day I will become a lawyer but I am still a parliamentarian. I am running for a second term because I want the issue of a European prosecutor to move forward.
Q: How would this new prosecutor touch upon this case?
EJ: What would a European prosecutor do with this? In the first stage - and we will take 5 years to get there, the EU prosecutor would only have the power to take care of the economic interests of the Union, so this would not be his case. But I think in a seconf [phase] we should have a prosecutor that can take care of transnational criminality and prosecutions. But I think we are very far away until we have a unique prosecutor.
Q: It's not yet established that the two women are 'victims', it's probably not right to call them 'victims' but 'alleged victims'
EJ: Alleged victims, you are right. Because we have the presumption of innocence, which means that Julian Assange is innocent until he is convicted, if and when.
Q: The other thing is that a Supreme Court judge in Sweden has himself said that there is no impediment to the prosecutor traveling to the UK, so there is no legal impediment, even under Swedish law.
EJ: I know that and that's what I wanted to come and say with strength, from a practical point of view, and I think that it is not acceptable for the interests here, and also for the reputation of Sweden, that a case can be stopped because of prestige - there should be ways to go forward. And if they do not exist the law should be amended.
Q: As far as I know it's not clear what the public opinion is about this. I don't know of any systematic opinion poll. Does anyone here? Because the press here has been very skewed.
EJ: I think it's very important to get the facts on the table. Because the discussion, unless people are aware of what has happened, of The Times correspondent [Michael Grunwald] saying in Autumn 2013 "I cannot wait to have to justify the drone attack that took Julian Assange away" [Correct quote: "I can't wait to write a defense of the drone strike that takes out Julian Assange"]. It's very violent.
Jon Thorisson: And another thing that we've been trying to point out is that Julian Assange and WikiLeaks are a publishing organisation. They haven't leaked anything. They have taken information leaked from other sources and published it. So for you guys as journalists this is a really important question because this is the criminalisation of journalism. The way he has been treated and the Wikileaks organisation and now people associated with Snowden and I mean - Miranda, Glenn Greenwald's partner who was apprehended at the airport in London and his computers taken and it's done under the UK anti-terrorism legislation. So it's a very important distinction. This is what the Americans are trying to do and Chelsea Manning's American lawyer said that he had the feeling that he had two defendants - one was Manning and the other was Julian Assange. Because they tried everything they could to throw [Assange] into Manning's case and in the closing statements of the Manning case in the US they mentioned Assange's name twenty-six times, just in the closing statements. So what they are trying to do is to establish a conspiracy between WikiLeaks and..
[Unstructured discussion] Person a: That's a distinction that they are trying to make that Wikileaks is not a passive recipient of leaks but has incited them...
EJ: That is what they want to show..
Person b: Really, is that proven?
Person a: No, that's what they are trying to say.
Q: About your suggestion, have you discussed that with the Ecaudorian authorities?
EJ: I think that was in a way premature. We needed first to obtain from the Swedish prosecution authorities that they are willing to go there, and because Ecaudor has given Julian Assange asylum, I think we can anticipate that they will not oppose. But we are in British territory, we need their cooperation and we need it first. And then we need the cooperation of the Ecuadorian authorities.
Q: What if they say no?
EJ: The UK has a duty to cooperate, if they are asked, as per the convention that I have referred to.
EJ: They are, and they are spending four million dollars - or pounds - to guard the embassy. So this is also absurd, isn't it? An absurd use of money, and time that goes by. Okay. So now I think it's important that the debate takes place.
- Assange Affidavit (3 September 2013).
- Agreed Statement of Facts (1 February 2012).
Rush Transcript posted by swedenvsassange, 28 March 2014