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.
In the August 22 filing, unsealed in late September and noticed Thursday by a sharp-eyed counterterrorism expert, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kellen S. Dwyer urged a judge to keep charges against a sex trafficking and terrorism suspect, Seitu Sulayman Kokayi, under seal 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". Urging a judge to keep the matter sealed, Assistant US Attorney Kellen S Dwyer wrote 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".
Joshua Stueve, a spokesperson for the attorney's office responsible for the filing, told The Washington Post it had been "made in error" and claimed that Assange was "not the intended name for this filing".
The Washington Post reported late Thursday, citing people familiar with the matter, that Assange had indeed been charged.
Barry Pollack, of Assange's legal team, said: "The only thing more irresponsible than charging a person for publishing truthful information would be to put in a public filing information that clearly was not intended for the public and without any notice to Mr. Assange". It would also suggest that, after years of internal wrangling within the Justice Department, prosecutors have chose to take a more aggressive tact against the secret-sharing website.
It was not immediately clear what charges Assange, who has been holed up for years in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, might face. If so, charges against the WikiLeaks editor could be potentially linked to the notorious probe by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is struggling to find proof of Russia's "interference" in the 2016 U.S. election.
The revelation suggests that U.S. authorities are optimistic about getting the Wikileaks founder, now holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, into an American court. The case involves previously classified information, according to government filings, and prosecutors plan to use information obtained under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. He initially entered the embassy to avoid extradition for a rape charge in Sweden.
The Swedish case has since been dropped, but Britain still wants him to face justice over breaching his bail conditions following his arrest on the sexual assault allegations.
US officials had no comment on the disclosure in the document about a sealed indictment of Assange.