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Assange expulsion from Ecuador embassy would be 'illegal,' his legal team says

London(CNN) The legal team of WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange has said expelling him from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London would be "illegal" and would "violate international refugee law."

"It will be a sad day for democracy if the UK and Ecuadorean governments are willing to act as accomplices to the Trump administration's determination to prosecute a publisher for publishing truthful information," according to the statement issued on Friday.

In a statement Friday, the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry called the rumors about the termination of Assange's asylum "fake news," adding that the claim of a possible agreement with the UK "misrepresents reality."

"The Ecuadorian government notices that these falsehoods are also an attempt to tarnish the dignity of the country," the ministry said in the statement. "When they issue falsehoods, the asylee and his associates express once more their ingratitude and disrespect towards Ecuador, instead of showing gratitude towards the country that has welcomed him for nearly seven years, incurred significant expenditures to pay for his stay at the Embassy, has borne their rudeness and to whom he, paradoxically, has filed a lawsuit against for adopting a cohabitation protocol in order to prevent his bad behavior from taking place again."

WikiLeaks tweeted from its verified account Thursday, "BREAKING: A high level source within the Ecuadorian state has told @WikiLeaks that Julian Assange will be expelled within "hours to days" using the #INAPapers offshore scandal as a pretext--and that it already has an agreement with the UK for his arrest."

When asked about the speculation on Friday, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told reporters that Assange "is a free man" and "can leave the embassy whenever he wants to." "We want the situation resolved as quickly as possible," he added.

London's Metropolitan Police refused to comment when asked if police were aware of any extradition arrangement.

The Australian whistleblower has been holed up at the embassy, yards from Harrods department store in Knightsbridge, since 2012 when he was granted asylum as part of a bid to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he was facing allegations of sexual assault.

The case has since been dropped, but as Assange fears US extradition due to his work with WikiLeaks he has remained in place. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

A US court filing in November 2018 revealed US government efforts to criminally charge Assange. The Justice Department investigation of Assange and WikiLeaks dates to at least 2010, when the site posted thousands of files stolen by the former US Army intelligence analyst now known as Chelsea Manning.

A spokesperson for the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry had told CNN on Thursday that it does not respond to rumor or hypothesis, when asked about the WikiLeaks allegations.

Assange's Ecuadorian Lawyer, Carlos Poveda, told CNN: "It could happen, the Ecuadorian government could apply the protocol to terminate his asylum. But this would be in coordination with the United Kingdom so his exit could be shown as a war's trophy."

On Tuesday, Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno told local media that Assange has repeatedly violated protocol at the embassy. "Several times, Mr. Assange has violated the agreement we reached with him and his lawyers," he said.

Poveda told CNN that the President hadn't been specific on how or which article of the protocol his client had violated.

New rules on Assange

Since Moreno took office 2017, Assange has repeatedly claimed Ecuador has been trying to make life more difficult in a bid to force him to vacate the premises. Ecuador has denied it, with Attorney General Íñigo Salvador telling reporters in October that his country was "not looking to revoke" Assange's asylum.

However, Moreno said in December that if the UK government guaranteed that Assange will not be extradited to a third country where he could face the death penalty, the WikiLeaks founder should hand himself in to the authorities.

Ecuador said that the UK had given such a guarantee, but Moreno said he needed clarification on the British position.

Last year Assange was told he had to abide by new rules imposed by the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

They include paying for his food, medical care and laundry, taking care of his cat, keeping the parts of the embassy he uses clean, and obtaining prior authorization for visitors.

CNN's Ana Maria Canizares reported from Ecuador, Gremaud Angee and Samantha Beech reported from Atlanta, and Claudia Rebaza and Hilary McGann reported from London. Claudia Dominguez contributed to this report.
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