WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been charged under seal by the US Justice Department with unspecified crimes, prosecutors apparently inadvertently revealed in a recent court filing in an unrelated case.
The disclosure (see below), made in August by Assistant US Attorney Kellen S. Dwyer, urges the Eastern District Court of Virginia to keep the matter sealed, writing that "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."
Dwyer went on to write that the charges would "need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter."
Assange has been holed up in ain the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for more than six years to avoid extradition to the US. He initially entered the embassy to avoid extradition for a rape charge in Sweden. The country dropped that charge, but he's .
Assange is concerned that if he leaves the embassy the US may also seek to extradite him on espionage charges. Last year, the US Justice Department was reportedly considering filing criminal charges against WikiLeaks and Assange in connection with the 2010 leak of diplomatic cables and military documents.
In an emailed statement, WikiLeaks lawyer Jennifer Robinson said the disclosure confirms "there is a very real risk that the United States is going to seek to prosecute Julian Assange for his publishing activities and potentially seek to extradite him."
Over the past 12 years, WikiLeaks says it's released more than 10 million secret government documents through its website. The leaks range from a video showing an American Apache helicopter in the Iraq War shooting and , to emails from the Democratic National Committee exposing alleged misconduct during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The Justice Department under former President Barack Obama declined to press charges for revealing the sensitive secrets, concluding that WikiLeaks was working in a capacity akin to journalism. But the case was never formally closed, and the Justice Department under President Donald Trump has signaled a willingness to take another look at the case.
The passages containing Assange's name appear in a sex trafficking case that involves national security concerns. Seitu Sulayman Kokayi was charged with enticing a teenage girl to have sex with him. He was detained, according to a court filing, because he "has a substantial interest in terrorist acts" that may be related to convictions against his father-in-law.
Representatives for the Justice Department didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
First published Nov. 15, 9:25 p.m. PT.
Update, Nov. 16 at 8:13 a.m. PT: Adds comment from WikiLeaks.
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