LONDON — Attorneys for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange insisted in the closing arguments of his extradition hearing here Friday that a Swedish arrest warrant is not valid, adding that media leaks about the sexual assault allegations against their client have created a "toxic atmosphere" that ensures he could not get a fair trial in Sweden.
British prosecutors representing Sweden dismissed those arguments as hyperbole and said the seriousness of the allegations merit his dispatch to Stockholm. Addressing defense claims that Swedish officials have maligned Assange in the press, prosecutor Clare Montgomery shot back, "Those who seek to fan the flames of a media firestorm can't be surprised when they get burnt."
Thus closed the first of what is likely to be a protracted set of hearings and appeals in Britain as the 39-year-old Australian battles the attempt to extradite him to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning on allegations of sexual molestation, unlawful coercion and rape. Assange has denied the allegations.
After 21/2 days of arguments this week, Judge Howard Riddle is expected to issue his verdict Feb. 24. But given the various routes of appeal, he conceded the "inevitability" of a challenge, perhaps delaying a resolution for months.
Assange, who looked relaxed in a suit and purple tie as he heard the closing arguments in the southeast London courtroom, is living under strict bail conditions at the country estate of a friend as he fights the extradition request.
The warrant hinges on allegations by two Swedish women with whom Assange had brief affairs in Stockholm in August. Both claim that specific encounters with Assange at one point became nonconsensual, with one saying he engaged in unwanted, unprotected sex with her while she was asleep, an act considered criminal rape in Sweden.
Assange has described the allegations as the words of jilted lovers. His defense contends, among other arguments, that text messages exist showing that the women were plotting revenge.