Assange may face jail after extradition defeat

UPDATE, 11:47 GMT: Full ruling in Assange's extradition hearing is available here.

Julian Assange, the founder of whistle-blowing web site WikiLeaks, has lost the first leg of his battle against extradition to face questioning over allegations of sexual offences made by two women in Sweden - and may be set to return to jail.

Summing up, Senior District Judge Howard Riddle dismissed claims made by Assange's defence lawyer that Swedish prosecutors had no authority to issue the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) seeking the Australian's extradition. He went on to say that he has "no doubt" that Assange is wanted for prosecution, rather than just questioning.

Judge Riddle began by complaining that both sides in the case had submitted further evidence during the last few days. "They shouldn't have done," he told the court.

Dismissing the defence argument that the alleged offences were not extraditable, he declared that the allegation made by the second woman, Miss B, "would amount to rape" if tried in the UK.

The judge poured doubt on Assange's willingness to submit to questioning while he was still in Sweden, stating that it was not for the court to decide whether or not Assange deliberately fled, just that he did not make himself available.

Referring to the difficulties the Australian's defence team claim they encountered in arranging a meeting with Swedish prosecutors, Judge Riddle told the court: "It would be a reasonable assumption from the facts that Mr Assange was deliberately avoiding interrogation before he left Sweden."

The judge went on to launch an unprecedented attack on Assange's Swedish lawyer. He said Björn Hurtig had made a "deliberate attempt to mislead the court" when he gave evidence at the hearing earlier this month - an almost unheard-of accusation for a British judge to level at a lawyer.

Judge Riddle labelled Hurtig an "unreliable witness" concerning Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny's attempts to contact Assange.

The judge did, however, accept that there had been "considerable adverse publicity against Mr Assange in Sweden" - including from the country's prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt - but said he was "absolutely satisfied" that it would not affect the fairness of any trial.

He concluded by saying that any alleged abuse of process in Sweden would be best dealt with in a Swedish court.

Given the judge's opinions on Assange's unwillingness to face questioning, doubts have been raised over the issue of bail - leading to the real possibility that the 39-year-old will spend tonight back behind bars.

Assange's legal team has seven days to appeal the ruling, or he faces extradition within ten days.