QUITO (Reuters) - WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange dodged an eviction order in Ecuador’s Sunday election, after the right-wing candidate who had vowed to kick him out of the country’s London embassy was set to narrowly lose a presidential election.
Assange has been holed up in the tiny embassy for nearly five years, protected by Ecuador’s current leftist government from extradition to Sweden over rape allegations.
Conservative presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso had vowed to roll back that welcome mat and remove Assange within 30 days of winning office, making global headlines and spooking Assange’s supporters.
As it became clear Lasso was on the verge of defeat, Assange sent him a tongue-in-cheek message on Sunday night.
“I cordially invite Lasso to leave Ecuador within 30 days (with or without his tax haven millions),” wrote Assange on Twitter, amid accusations that Lasso had dodged taxes by stashing cash abroad.
Government candidate Lenin Moreno, meanwhile, has promised to keep hosting Assange in the Andean country’s embassy - although he warned he may take a tougher stance.
Moreno said in an interview with leftist broadcaster TeleSUR in February that he would ask Assange “not to intervene in the politics of countries that are friends of Ecuador.”
Assange, who enraged Washington by publishing a flood of secret U.S. diplomatic cables, entered the London embassy fearing that Sweden could end up sending him on to the United States where he could face a long prison term for leaking U.S. secrets. He has repeatedly denied the rape allegations.
Though he will be able to stay on in the embassy, the tight presidential election in Ecuador highlighted just how vulnerable he is should a new government be ushered in.
Lasso said Ecuador, a largely poor country struggling amid an economic downturn, was wrong to host Assange.
“Ecuador had no business spending a single cent protecting someone who definitely leaked confidential information,” Lasso told Reuters in an interview in February in his sweltering coastal hometown of Guayaquil.
Despite its global importance, Assange’s case barely featured in the Ecuadorean campaign, which centred on jobs and social benefits.
In 2010, WikiLeaks published thousands of classified U.S. military and diplomatic documents in what became one of the largest information leaks in U.S. history.
Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Girish Gupta and Michael Perry