QUITO – The government of Ecuador announced on Thursday an immediate withdrawal of additional security forces at its embassy in London where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is living.
In a short statement, the National Secretariat of Communication (Secom) said President Lenin Moreno ordered additional security teams of the embassy to be “withdrawn immediately.”
Ecuador’s embassy in London will now carry out normal security procedures “similar to the rest of Ecuadorian embassies in the world,” Secom said.
The measure was announced after British newspaper The Guardian on Tuesday published an article unveiling that the Ecuadorian government had spent at least $5 million on a “spy operation” to “protect” Assange, who has been under political asylum at the embassy since 2012.
Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa said on Wednesday in Moscow that she would have to verify the claims.
“I understand that this refers to information between 2011 and 2013 which coincides with a period of the previous government” led by left-wing former president Rafael Correa, said Espinosa at a joint press conference after meeting with her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov.
Espinosa said she had no new information in regard to the report alleging that Ecuador had hired a security company and undercover agents to monitor Assange’s visitors at the embassy
According to the article, Assange’s daily activities were also recorded as part of the so-called “Operation Guest,” later renamed as “Operation Hotel.”
The Guardian said in the report – written after an investigation in conjunction with Focus Ecuador – that the operation was backed by Correa and the then foreign minister, Ricardo Patino.
Espinosa also confirmed that Assange is still being prohibited from using the internet in the embassy after his access was cut off in March.
The minister said the blocking of his internet access was the decision of the Ecuadorian government, dismissing claims it was due to pressure from the United Kingdom.
She said Ecuador continues to look for ways to ensure Assange’s security and human rights.
Last December, the government of Ecuador granted citizenship to Assange and requested diplomatic status for him in order to transport him out of the United Kingdom, but the British foreign ministry rejected the request.
Assange, who was born in Australia, sought asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London allegedly to avoid extradition to Sweden to face accusations of sexual crimes. He is also currently subject to extradition to the United States over an investigation into confidential email leaks.