Moreno: Assange used to coordinate hackers from the embassy
WASHINGTON (AP) — Ecuador's president on Tuesday accused Julian Assange of hosting numerous hackers at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to give them directions on how to propagate information on topics important to the WikiLeaks founder and his financiers.
President Lenin Moreno said that Swedish programmer Ola Bini, who is in custody in Ecuador, was one of the hackers who visited Assange many times.
Bini lives in Quito and was detained last week just hours after Moreno evicted Assange from the embassy, allowing him to be arrested by British authorities. Moreno said Bini hacked cellphones and online accounts belonging to both private citizens and Ecuador's government.
In Quito earlier in the day, Bini's parents made an anxious plea for authorities to release their son while expressing confidence he did nothing wrong.
"Ola is a friend of Julian Assange, nothing more," said his father, Dag Gustafsson.
Moreno made his allegations while at the Inter-American Dialogue during his five-day visit to Washington. He will not have meetings with officials from the Trump administration.
Assange had enjoyed asylum since 2012 at the embassy in London but relations between the silver-haired Australian and Ecuadorian officials had grown increasingly tense. Moreno's government has accused Assange of creating conflict by meddling in international affairs, harassing staff and even smearing feces on the embassy's walls.
Assange is in custody in London awaiting sentencing for skipping bail to avoid being sent to Sweden as part of an investigation into a rape allegation. The U.S. is also seeking his extradition after charging him with conspiring to break into a Pentagon computer system.
Ecuador's president suggested Assange was able to operate equipment and collaborate with embassy staffers for a long time thanks to the support of Moreno's predecessor, Rafael Correa, who granted asylum to Assange.
"There are other answers that fit with someone's else money, which (this person) kept taking away from Ecuador in order to keep power and in order to go back to power," Moreno said without referring specifically to Correa at first.
But at a later point, Moreno said "the president" spends $3 million a month to propagate his ideas and has been receiving money from the socialist government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to perform economic studies. He did not specify an amount.
Moreno said his government has not requested cooperation from the United States for the investigation of Assange and Bini. But, he added, "if we need it, we will request. Let's not forget this is a country with very high technology."
Ecuadorian Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo contends Bini traveled at least 12 times to meet with Assange at the London embassy. She says he was also in Venezuela earlier this year around the same time as a close aide to Correa.
Prosecutors have said they intend to charge Bini with hacking-related crimes and had him ordered detained for up to 90 days while they compile evidence.
Bini's father said his son works as a software developer for a non-profit group and has a "burning passion" for freedom of speech and online personal integrity issues. He said he is convinced his son is innocent and will remain in Ecuador until he is released.
"For us, it's surreal to think Ola is involved in these things, these accusations," Gustafasson said.
Luis Alonso Lugo on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/luisalonsolugo