July 27 (UPI) -- The defense team for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange alleged Monday during a court hearing that U.S. officials may be using his extradition case for political ends.
He added that U.S. Attorney General William Barr of the Department of Justice had "sprung" a new superseding U.S. indictment on the defense team and may be using the case for political ends. The indictment came months after Britain had started to try to secure his extradition to the United States.
Assange, who is being held at Belmarsh Prison, eventually took part in the hearing by video link after an initial delay.
Fitzgerald said at the hearing that it would be improper if the new indictment led to postponing the hearing until after the November presidential election in the United States.
Assange was arrested in April of last year. He had been living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012 when he sought asylum to dodge sexual assault charges in Sweden. Assange was arrested after Ecuador withdrew its offer of asylum. Ecuador's President Lenin Moreno said the country's patience for Assange had "reached its limit" after "repeated violations to international conventions and daily life."
The WikiLeaks founder was indicted on 17 new charges of violating the Espionage Act in May of last year and already faced a charge from March 2018 of conspiring to commit unlawful computer intrusion, which carried a maximum five years in prison. Assange was accused of working with former intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to obtain and publicly release classified information. The new charges brought his total charges to 18 counts with each violation of the Espionage Act carrying a maximum 10-year sentence.
The newest superseding indictment alleges Assange recruited and intentionally worked with hackers from hacking groups "Anonymous" and "LulzSec" to provide WikiLeaks with documents.
The Justice Department said the newest superseding indictment returned last month does not add to the 18-count indictment against him in May 2019, but does "broaden the scope of the conspiracy surrounding alleged computer intrusions with which Assange was previously charged."
"It contains no new charges," WikiLeaks editor-in-chief, Kristinn Hrafnsson said outside the court, referring to the new indictment. "What's really happening is despite its decade-long head-start, the prosecution are still unable to build a coherent and and credible case. So they've scrapped their previous two indictments and gone for a third try."
The full hearing of the extradition case has been postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic to September. Judge Vanessa Baraitser said that she expected all parties to attend in person in September.