Key accusations in the case against WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange, who faces up to 175 years in prison if extradited to the US, are reportedly based on testimony from a convicted fraudster who admitted to media he was lying.
Sigurdur Ingi Thordarson, an Icelandic citizen and former WikiLeaks volunteer who became an FBI informant for $5,000, has admitted to Icelandic newspaper Stundin that he fabricated important parts of the accusations in the indictment.
In an article published on Saturday, Stundin details several parts of his testimony that he now denies, claiming that Assange never instructed him to carry out any hacking.
The newspaper points out that even though a court in London has refused to extradite Assange to the US on humanitarian grounds, it still sided with the US when it came to claims based on Thordarson’s now-denied testimony. For instance, the ruling says that “Mr. Assange and Teenager failed a joint attempt to decrypt a file stolen from a ‘NATO country 1’ bank,” where “NATO country 1” is believed to refer to Iceland, while “Teenager” referred to Thordarson himself.
However, he now reportedly claims that the file in question can’t exactly be considered “stolen” since it was assumed to have been distributed and leaked by whistleblowers inside the bank and many people online were attempting to decrypt it at the time. That’s because it allegedly contained information about defaulted loans provided by Icelandic Landsbanki, the fall of which in 2008 led to a major economic crisis in the country.
Thordarson also provided the publication with chat logs from his time volunteering for WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011, showing his frequent requests for hackers to either attack or get information from Icelandic entities and websites. But, according to Stundin, none of the logs show that Thordarson was asked to do that by anyone inside WikiLeaks. What they do show, according to the newspaper, are constant attempts by the organization’s volunteer to inflate his position, describing himself as chief of staff or head of communications.
In 2012, WikiLeaks filed criminal charges against Thordarson over embezzlement and financial fraud. He was later sentenced for both in Iceland.
Stundin also cites Ogmundur Jonasson, then-Icelandic interior minister, who says US authorities were going out of their way to get Assange.
They were trying to use things here [in Iceland] and use people in our country to spin a web, a cobweb that would catch Julian Assange.
The newspaper claims that Thordarson’s testimony is key for the prosecution’s line portraying Assange as a criminal, rather than a journalist publishing material protected by the First Amendment, like the New York Times or other media that shared the same documents as WikiLeaks.
Reacting to the bombshell article by Stundin, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden tweeted: “This is the end of the case against Julian Assange.” Investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald agreed, saying: “It should be.”
Assange has spent more than two years behind bars at Belmarsh Prison in the UK. The US government has charged the Australian journalist under the Espionage Act, accusing him of leaking classified information in 2010. At the time, WikiLeaks published documents detailing abuses, including possible war crimes, carried out by the US military in Afghanistan and Iraq. Washington is currently seeking his extradition, and Assange could be jailed for up to 175 years if found guilty.
At the beginning of June, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer called on the UK government to release the journalist, condemning his incarceration as “one of the biggest judicial scandals in history.”