Ecuador's leader says Julian Assange turned London embassy into a "center of spying"

/ CBS/AP

U.S. seeking to extradite Julian Assange

The government of Ecuador has continued taking jabs at WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after effectively evicting him from its London embassy and allowing for his arrest. Ecuadorian officials, including the nation's president, have accused him of everything from crude behavior and poor pet ownership to turning their property into a "center for spying."

A lawyer for the Australian hacker, who remains jailed in London pending a ruling on possible extradition to the U.S., has accused Ecuador of hurling "outrageous allegations" to distract from their "unlawful" abandonment of her client.

Why was Julian Assange arrested?

In an interview published by The Guardian newspaper, Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno rejected claims that he had allowed for Assange's arrest as a reprisal for WikiLeaks purportedly leaking documents that sullied his name, including claims of secret bank accounts and hidden wealth.

Moreno insisted it was Assange's actions against other democratic countries, taken while he lived in Ecuador's embassy for seven years, that had led to the eviction.

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"Any attempt to destabilize is a reprehensible act for Ecuador, because we are a sovereign nation and respectful of the politics of each country," Moreno told The Guardian. "We cannot allow our house, the house that opened its doors, to become a center for spying."

On Sunday, however, a lawyer representing Assange alleged that Ecuador's government was spreading lies about his behavior.

Trump changes his tune on WikiLeaks after Julian Assange arrest

Ecuadorian officials have claimed that Assange's actions deteriorated before his arrest on Thursday, and included putting excrement on walls, leaving soiled laundry in the bathroom, and not properly looking after his cat.

Assange is being held in custody at Belmarsh Prison in southeast London, awaiting sentencing in Britain for skipping bail to avoid being sent to Sweden as part of an investigation of a rape allegation. Sweden is considering reviving the investigation.

The United States also is seeking his extradition after charging him with conspiring to break into a Pentagon computer system, which could lead to competing extradition demands. The U.S. charge carries a possible five-year prison sentence.

"Outrageous allegations?"

Lawyer Jennifer Robinson told British TV network Sky News the Ecuadorian government was spreading alleged falsehoods to divert attention from its decision to revoke his asylum and allow his arrest at its British embassy,

"I think the first thing to say is Ecuador has been making some pretty outrageous allegations over the past few days to justify what was an unlawful and extraordinary act in allowing British police to come inside an embassy," Robinson said.

An image tweeted by WikiLeaks on May 9, 2016, shows founder Julian Assange holding a kitten given to him by his children to keep him company where he remains holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. WikiLeaks

Ecuador's Moreno ended Assange's protected status after more than 6½ years and opened the way for his arrest. Moreno gas said Assange abused Ecuador's goodwill, mistreated embassy staff and used his perch to try to interfere in other country's political affairs.

Assange has had "a very difficult time" since Moreno took office in Ecuador in 2017, Robinson said.

What happens next?

U.K. Home Secretary Sajid Javid would be expected to have the final say in which extradition claim takes priority, if Sweden does file a new one. More than 70 British legislators have urged Javid to give priority to a case involving rape allegations ahead of the U.S. request.

He would not be expected to enter a plea to the Department of Justice case unless he loses his extradition case and is brought to a courtroom in the United States.

Assange, who appeared much older when he emerged from the embassy than when he sought refuge there in August 2012, has denied the Swedish rape allegation, asserting the sex was consensual.

Julian Assange jailed but defiant as extradition battle begins

He has not formally responded to the U.S. conspiracy charge. His indictment was made public hours after his Thursday arrest, but Assange's lawyers say he is a legitimate journalist whose prosecution would have a chilling effect.

The extradition court in Britain will not be judging the evidence against him, but will evaluate whether the crime he is accused of would be a crime in Britain.

Assange's next court appearance is scheduled for May 2. In the meantime, he is expected to seek prison medical care for severe shoulder pain and dental problems, WikiLeaks has said.

First published on April 15, 2019 / 7:02 AM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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