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London's costs spiral upwards as Assange stakeout sees no end

Published time: July 11, 2013 03:34
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange gestures as he prepares to speak from the balcony of Ecuador's embassy, where he is taking refuge in London (Reuters / Chris Helgren)

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange gestures as he prepares to speak from the balcony of Ecuador's embassy, where he is taking refuge in London (Reuters / Chris Helgren)

London officials are facing scrutiny over the spiraling cost of maintaining a 24-hour police watch outside of the Ecuadorian embassy, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has now resided for a year.

According to a letter sent in response to London assembly member Jenny Jones, London’s Metropolitan police commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe has said that the total cost so far of constantly policing the embassy adds up to £3.8 million, £0.7 million of which is comprised of additional costs for increased overtime wages to officers.

Assange, who entered the embassy in June of last year, is currently in a sort of legal limbo as the online activist's host country of Ecuador has granted him political asylum, but would face extradition to Sweden for questioning in connection to allegations of sexual assault, and could well be turned over to US authorities to face charges stemming from the publication of classified documents provided by Bradley Manning.

Though Assange maintains that the sexual assault accusations have been fabricated as part of a political smear campaign against him, the UK has promised to arrest him should he set foot outside of diplomatically protected Ecuadorian territory.

Jenny Jones, a member of the Green party, has said that the situation is unsustainable for the City of London.

"It's ridiculous that for over a year now the Metropolitan police service have been stationed outside the Ecuadorian embassy waiting for Julian Assange to attempt an escape. At a time when the Met is making cuts how can this be a priority for the police? This situation cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely. The mayor really should be trying to find a solution to this stalemate because in the meantime the Met is spending time and resources on an expensive stakeout," Jones tells The Guardian.

Reuters / Luke MacGregor

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague met his his Ecuadorian counterpart Ricardo Patiño in June to discuss Assange, though they evidently failed to reach any compromise.

The British Foreign Office said that “no substantive progress” had been made following that meeting, while Patiño remarked that the situation was “totally unjust,” and that Ecuador was prepared to wait it out, with Assange having told him he was “fit enough” to spend another five years within the embassy.

"Our government will not hand Mr. Assange over to the UK government nor to anyone else and we shall continue to stress that Mr. Assange has the right to benefit from asylum," said Patiño.

"We feel he should be handed over into safe conduct so that he can leave the UK for elsewhere," he added.

At the same time, despite the round-the-clock picket by London police, Patiño stated that his country had no intention of trying to whisk away the WikiLeaks founder through subterfuge.

“We're not going to smuggle Mr. Assange out in the boot of a car or through an underground tunnel or something," Patiño said.

Assange has also stated that he would likely not leave the west London embassy even if Sweden were to drop its extradition orders against him, convinced that the US would instead transport him stateside to face espionage charges.

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