LONDON — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to Sweden over sex crimes claims, a judge said Thursday. Assange's lawyer said he would appeal the ruling.
Judge Howard Riddle said the allegations of rape and sexual molestation by two women are extraditable offenses and a Swedish warrant was properly issued.
Assange has been out on bail during the extradition fight, and has seven days to appeal the ruling to the High Court.
Riddle said "there is simply no reason to believe there has been a mistake" about the arrest warrant.
Assange's lawyers have questioned Sweden's judicial process and expressed concern their client risks being handed over to the U.S., which is investigating whether Assange's website should be held responsible for obtaining hundreds of thousands of classified United States government and military documents and posting large numbers of them on the Internet.
Lawyers for Sweden have argued that authorities made repeated attempts to interview Assange while he was in Scandinavia, but to no avail.
In his ruling, the judge attacked the defense case against extradition point by point. He said he is satisfied that the crimes Assange, 39, is accused of are extraditable offenses, and rejected the claim that comments made against Assange by prosecutors and politicians in Sweden would pervert the course of justice.
Assange's lawyers have said that Sweden's custom of hearing rape cases behind closed doors means he would not get a fair trial. Riddle said the practice was common in Sweden.
In Sweden, Claes Borgstrom, the lawyer representing the two women who accused Assange of sex crimes said the decision was expected.
"It's just too bad that it took so long," Borgstrom said. Assange "will probably appeal this decision for some reason that is hard to understand. He claims that he hasn't committed a crime so he should just come here and sort it out. I expect that he will be on Swedish soil before the summer."
Bjorn Hurtig, Assange's Swedish lawyer, told The Associated Press that he was already preparing to represent his client.
"If he comes to Sweden, I think he has great chances of being freed," Hurtig said. "And I'll be waiting for him, ready to fight for him tooth and nail."
About a dozen WikiLeaks and Assange supporters in ski hats and parkas gathered outside the court hours before the hearing on a damp morning, hanging banners and signs saying "Free Julian Assange and Bradley Manning," the young U.S. Army private suspected of leaking the documents.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now