Ecuadorean judge orders Swedish citizen close to Assange jailed pending trial

QUITO (Reuters) – An Ecuadorean judge ordered a Swedish citizen, who according to the Andean country’s government was linked to WikiLeaks, jailed pending trial for alleged involvement in hacking government computer systems, the prosecutor’s office said on Saturday.

Ola Bini, who has lived in Ecuador for five years, was detained at Quito airport on Thursday as he prepared to board a flight to Japan, after the country’s interior minister said three foreign citizens had been leaking private information related to the South American country.

That announcement came the same day Ecuador ended its asylum for Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks who had lived in the country’s London embassy since 2012, avoiding possible extradition to the United States, where he has been charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.

More recently, Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno had accused WikiLeaks and Assange of violating his privacy by publishing private family photographs. WikiLeaks has denied those allegations, arguing that Moreno was attempting to deflect attention from corruption allegations against him.

Bini, a 36-year-old software developer, works at the Quito-based Center for Digital Autonomy, an organization focusing on cybersecurity and data privacy. Bini had visited Assange at the embassy some 12 times in recent years, interior minister Maria Paulo Romo said in a local television interview on Friday.

Bini’s lawyer, Carlos Soria, called the judge’s decision “incomprehensible and surprising,” and said he planned to appeal the decision, arguing that the justice system “has allowed itself to be influenced by non-judicial factors.”

“They are trying to link him with some sort of possible espionage case without any proof or evidence,” Soria told Reuters in a telephone interview. “He is a personal friend of Julian Assange, he is not a member of WikiLeaks, and being friends with somebody is not a crime – neither is having computers in your home.”

The prosecutor’s office said it had found “a large quantity” of electronic equipment and credit cards in Bini’s suitcase and during a raid of his home.

It also presented a report showing he had paid more than $230,000 for internet services between 2015 and 2019.

Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by James Dalgleish

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