He spent almost seven years basically a prisoner inside of the Ecuadoran Embassy in London. But the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, became a more expensive guest than appreciated by his hosts and they wanted him out.
“They were over him, he was a big nuisance,” one senior U.S. official told ABC News. “They were saying ‘This is too much. How do we get him out?’”
Revoking his diplomatic asylum at a time when he was wanted by the United States for his alleged role in hacking and publicizing some of the nation’s most sensitive government secrets would come only after covert, back-channel negotiations, according to ABC News.
The process of moving Assange out of the Ecuadorian Embassy started a year ago, on March 7, 2018. The Ecuadorians wrote a letter to the U.K. asking for written assurances that they would not extradite Assange to a country where he could face the death penalty, according to the Ecuadorian Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo.
Ecuador’s direct outreach to the U.S. came six months later, through the country’s ambassador to Germany, Manuel Mejia Dalmau, according to U.S. and Ecuadorian officials. Dalmau sought a private “emergency meeting” in Berlin with the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell.
At the time, Dalmau said Ecuador was spending between $30,000 and $35,000 per month to house Assange because of his need for extra security and his demands for extra space within the embassy, according to a senior U.S. official.
The Latin American country said it has spent $10 million on Assange, including medical expenses, legal counsel, food and laundry since 2012. That is when Assange first sought asylum from Sweden where he was the subject of a rape investigation. Prosecutors in Sweden on Thursday announced they intended to re-open the investigation.
The challenge the Ecuadorans faced in turning him over to British officials was the prospect of Assange facing the death penalty. Ecuador strongly opposes it. The U.S Justice Department was engaged to see if they could provide assurances that the U.S. government would not seek the death penalty. According to the senior U.S. official, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein consented.
U.S. Justice Department officials would not confirm that the U.S. agreed to take any sentence off the table. But they noted that the charge the U.S unsealed against Assange does not represent a capital offense and carries a maximum of five years in prison.