LONDON -- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange -- who sent the world into a tailspin last week when his organization dumped some 250,000 U.S. secret diplomatic cables
-- is without question the world's most wanted man. But according to several British news outlets, Assange's arrest is imminent, possibly as early as Monday.
Speculation that the end was in sight began after it emerged late Friday that Swedish prosecutors had filed a fresh request to British police
to extradite the WikiLeaks founder. In November, Swedish authorities issued an arrest warrant for Assange, who was accused of committing sex crimes there in August. But a procedural error in the original European arrest warrant sent by Swedish prosecutors to Britain's Serious Organized Crime Agency, or Soca, have prevented any move to apprehend the Australian.
For the past several months, Assange has widely believed to have been in hiding somewhere in the United Kingdom. The public perception has been one of a man hunt.
But according to his U.K.-based lawyer, Mark Stephens, Scotland Yard has actually had precise knowledge of Assange's whereabouts
since he arrived in this country in October. Indeed, Stephens maintains, they even have a phone number should they wish to reach him.
"I feel like I am sitting in the middle of a surreal Swedish fairytale," Stephens said
. "The trolls keep threatening to come on and keep making noises off stage. But at the moment, no appearance from them."
Apparently, the delay in Assange's apprehension stems from the fact that the original warrant listed the maximum penalty only for the most serious charge
(in this case, rape), rather than for all of the charges (which include sexual molestation and unlawful coercion). Assuming the new warrant fulfills the letter of the law, Soca will then be legally obliged to authorize the police to arrest Julian Assange.
Once the arrest is made, Assange will be taken before an extradition hearing at Westminster magistrates' court. If he refuses to be extradited, a judge will preside over an extradition hearing and will rule on whether he should be sent to Sweden or discharged.
Stephens -- who has denounced the Swedish arrest warrant as a "political stunt"
-- plans to fight extradition should Assange be arrested. On a widely viewed British television program on Sunday, Stephens said Sweden's chief prosecutor had told Assange in September that the sexual charges against him by two women in Sweden were unsubstantiated. But the investigation was subsequently revived following the intervention of a Swedish politician.
Now, amid the furor following last week's secret cables dump, there is added pressure for Assange's arrest (and potential extradition) from the United States. Some prominent American politicians
have even called for him to be put to death.
On Friday, Assange took to the pages of the British daily, The Guardian, to defend the actions of his organization
in a Q and A with the newspapers' readers. On Saturday, he lashed out at the Australian government for not defending him
against attacks by the United States, saying he felt personally "betrayed" by Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
As Assange's arrest looms, WikiLeaks has struggled to keep its website accessible after such service providers as Amazon dropped contracts. On Friday, a U.S.-based domain name provider shut down WikiLeaks
(though it later re-emerged on both Swiss and German domains.) And on Saturday, the online payment service provider PayPal cut off its account
used to collect donations, saying the website was engaged in illegal activity.
But Assange remains combative. Several British newspapers on Sunday reported Assange as warning that he has already distributed an encrypted "poison pill" to fellow hackers
of damaging secrets, thought to include details on BP and Guantanamo Bay. He believes that this file is his "insurance" in case he is killed, arrested or WikiLeaks is removed permanently from the Internet.