Washington: A pair of references to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a major target of the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election, in an unrelated court filing reveals the US government efforts to charge him, the media reported on Friday.
In a filing unsealed last week, prosecutors for the Eastern District of Virginia included two references to charges against Assange while arguing to keep an unrelated case sealed for a different person charged with coercion and enticement of a minor, according to CNN.
Assange, who has been holed up in Ecuador’s Embassy in London since seeking asylum in 2012, is wanted by US law enforcement agencies after his controversial publication of classified diplomatic cables and other secret US government documents.
WikiLeaks is also under investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller for publishing tens of thousands of emails stolen from the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
“Another procedure short of sealing will not adequately protect the needs of law enforcement at this time because, due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged,” prosecutors wrote in the August 22 filing that was then unsealed November 8.
Later, in the request to seal, the prosecutors wrote that the charges would “need to remain sealed till Assange was arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter”.
“The court filing was made in error,” said Joshua Stueve, spokesman for the Eastern District of Virginia. He declined to comment further on how it happened or whether there are charges filed against Assange.
The Washington Post had reported that Assange has been charged, citing the inadvertent court disclosure as well as people familiar with the matter.
The filing was discovered by Seamus Hughes, Deputy Director of the programme on extremism at George Washington University.
Soon after, WikiLeaks tweeted about the filing, saying: “The US Department of Justice ‘accidentally’ reveals existence of sealed charges (or a draft for them) against WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange in apparent cut-and-paste error in an unrelated case.”