A former Swedish prosecutor called by the defense attacked his country's handling of sex crimes allegations against WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange that could lead to his extradition to Sweden.
Sven-Erik Alhem, a former chief district prosecutor in Stockholm, told a British court considering a Swedish request to extradite Assange on Tuesday that Swedish prosecutors should have tried to question Assange in Britain before applying for his extradition.
The 39-year-old Australian computer expert, who has infuriated the U.S. government by releasing thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables on his website, is wanted in Sweden to face allegations of sexual misconduct made by two WikiLeaks volunteers during a visit there last August.
Assange's lawyers argue that Assange would not get a fair trial in Sweden and that being sent there could be a stepping stone to extradition to the United States, where he could end up facing execution for leaking secrets.
Alhem, called as an expert witness by Assange's legal team, said Marianne Ny, the Swedish director of public prosecutions, should have moved urgently to question Assange before he left Sweden last September 27.
In my opinion she should ... have made sure that Assange was given the opportunity to give his version of the events in detail, he told the court, speaking through an interpreter.
Lawyer Clare Montgomery, for the prosecution, said Ny's account of her unsuccessful attempts to interview Assange in Sweden showed a history of non-cooperation by the Australian.
Alhem, speaking on the final day of a two-day extradition hearing at the high-security Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in southeast London, said he did not understand why Assange could not have answered questions about the case in Britain.
Assange's lawyers say it is disproportionate for Swedish authorities to seek his extradition under a fast-track European arrest warrant instead of interviewing him in Britain by video link or at the Swedish embassy.
In written testimony, Alhem said prosecutors turned down an opportunity to talk to Assange in Sweden because the police officer involved was sick. This was no excuse, he said.
But Alhem also said he did not believe Assange would be extradited from Sweden to the United States because it would cause a media storm.
I would write three articles myself, he said.
One of Assange's Swedish accusers, Miss A, alleges he sexually molested her by ignoring her request for him to use a condom when having sex with her. A second, Miss W, says Assange had sex with her without a condom while she was asleep.
Prosecutors say that amounts to the least severe of three categories of rape in Sweden, carrying a maximum of four years in jail.
Assange has been free under strict conditions since a British court released him on bail in December. The U.S. government is examining whether criminal charges can be brought against him over the diplomatic cables.
Grounds for refusing an extradition request are mainly limited to whether it would violate a suspect's human rights or whether the arrest warrant was drawn up correctly.
It is uncertain whether Judge Howard Riddle will decide on Tuesday whether Assange may be extradited. He could delay his ruling. Even if he gives the go-ahead, Assange could appeal.
(Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)