The Wikileaks sex files: How two one-night stands sparked a worldwide hunt for Julian Assange
Today, this small industrial centre, 40 miles west of Stockholm, remains best-known — if known at all — as the birthplace of the adjustable spanner.
But if extradition proceedings involving Britain are successful, it could soon be rather more celebrated — by the U.S. government at least — as the place where Mr Assange made a catastrophic error.
Here, in a first-floor flat in a dreary apartment block, the mastermind behind the leak of more than 250,000 classified U.S. diplomatic cables this month slept with a female admirer whom he had just met at a seminar. She subsequently made a complaint to police.
As a result, Assange, believed to be in hiding in England, faces a criminal prosecution and possibly jail. Last night, a European Arrest Warrant was given by Interpol to Scotland Yard.
The Stockholm police want to question him regarding the possible rape of a woman and separate allegations from another Swedish admirer, with whom he was having a concurrent fling. But there remains a huge question mark over the evidence. Many people believe that the 39-year-old Australian-born whistleblower is the victim of a U.S. government dirty tricks campaign.
They argue that the whole squalid affair is a sexfalla, which translates loosely from the Swedish as a ‘honeytrap’.
One thing is clear, though: Sweden’s complex rape laws are central to the story.
Using a number of sources including leaked police interviews, we can begin to piece together the sequence of events which led to Assange’s liberty being threatened by Stockholm police rather than Washington, where already one U.S. politician has called on him to executed for ‘spying’.
The story began on August 11 this year, when Assange arrived in Stockholm.
He had been invited to be the key speaker at a seminar on ‘war and the role of the media’, organised by the centre-Left Brotherhood Movement.
His point of contact was a female party official, whom we shall refer to as Sarah (her identity must be protected because of the ongoing legal proceedings).
An attractive blonde, Sarah was already a well-known ‘radical feminist’. In her 30s, she had travelled the world following various fashionable causes.
While a research assistant at a local university she had not only been the protegee of a militant feminist academic, but held the post of ‘campus sexual equity officer’. Fighting male discrimination in all forms, including sexual harassment, was her forte.
Sarah and Assange had never met. But in a series of internet and telephone conversations, they agreed that during his visit he could stay at her small apartment in central Stockholm. She said she would be away from the city until the day of the seminar itself.
What happened over the next few days — while casting an extraordinary light on the values of the two women involved — suggests that even if the WikiLeaks founder is innocent of any charges, he is certainly a man of strong sexual appetites who is not averse to exploiting his fame.
Certainly his stay was always going to be a very social affair, mingling with like-minded and undoubtedly admiring people.
That Thursday, he held court at the Beirut Cafe in Stockholm, dining with fellow ‘open government’ campaigners and an American journalist.
The following afternoon, Sarah returned to Stockholm, 24 hours earlier than planned.
In an interview she later gave to police, she is reported to have said: ‘He (Assange) was there when I came home. We talked a little and decided that he could stay.’
The pair went out for dinner together at a nearby restaurant. Afterwards they returned to her flat and had sex. What is not disputed by either of them is
that a condom broke — an event which, as we shall see, would later take on great significance.
At the time, however, the pair continued to be friendly enough the next day, a Saturday, with Sarah even throwing a party for him at her home in the evening.
That same day, Assange attended his seminar at the Swedish trade union HQ. In the front row of the audience, dressed in an eye-catching pink jumper — you can see her on a YouTube internet clip recorded at the time — was a pretty twentysomething whom we shall call Jessica. She was the woman — who two sources this week told me is a council employee — from Enkoping.
Jessica would later tell police that she had first seen Assange on television a few weeks before. She had found him ‘interesting, brave and admirable’. As a result, she began to follow the WikiLeaks saga, and when she discovered that he was due to visit Stockholm she contacted the Brotherhood Movement to volunteer to help out at the seminar. Although her offer was not taken up, she decided to attend the seminar anyway and took a large number of photos of Assange during his 90-minute talk.
It is believed that by happenstance Jessica also met Sarah — the woman with whom Assange had spent the night — during the meeting.
Afterwards, she hung around and was still there when Assange — who has a child from a failed relationship around 20 years ago — left with a group of male friends for lunch.
Sources conflict here. One says that she asked to tag along; another that Assange invited her to join them.
Subsequently, one of Assange’s friends recalled that Jessica had been ‘very keen’ to get Assange’s attention.
She was later to tell police that, at the restaurant, Assange put his arm around her shoulder. ‘I was flattered. It was obvious that he was flirting,’ she reportedly said.
The attraction was mutual. After lunch, the pair went to the cinema to see a film called Deep Sea. Jessica’s account suggests that were ‘intimate’ and then went to a park where Assange told her she was ‘attractive’.
But he had to leave to go to a ‘crayfish party’, a traditional, and usually boozy, Swedish summer event.
Jessica asked if they would meet again. ‘Of course,’ said the WikiLeaks supremo. They parted and she took a train back to Enkoping while he took a cab back to his temporary base at Sarah’s flat, where the crayfish party was to be held. You might think it strange that Sarah would want to throw a party in honour of the man about whom she would later make a complaint to police concerning their liaison the night before.
This is only one of several puzzling flaws in the prosecution case.
A few hours after that party, Sarah apparently Tweeted: ‘Sitting outside … nearly freezing, with the world’s coolest people. It’s pretty amazing!’ She was later to try to erase this message.
During the party, Assange apparently phoned Jessica and a few hours later she was boasting to friends about her flirtation with him. At that point, according to police reports, her friends advised her ‘the ball is in your court’.
So it was that on the Monday, Jessica called Assange and they arranged to get together in Stockholm. When they did meet they agreed to go to her home in Enkoping, but he had no money for a train ticket and said he didn’t want to use a credit card because he would be ‘tracked’ (presumably, as he saw it, by the CIA or other agencies).
So Jessica bought both their tickets.
She had snagged perhaps the world’s most famous activist, and after they arrived at her apartment they had sex. According to her testimony to police, Assange wore a condom. The following morning they made love again. This time he used no protection.
Jessica reportedly said later that she was upset that he had refused when she asked him to wear a condom.
Again there is scant evidence — in the public domain at least — of rape, sexual molestation or unlawful coercion.
What’s more, the following morning, on the Tuesday, the pair amicably went out to have breakfast together and, at her prompting, Assange promised to stay in touch. He then returned to Stockholm, with Jessica again paying for his ticket.
What happened next is difficult to explain. The most likely interpretation of events is that as a result of a one-night stand, one participant came to regret what had happened.
Jessica was worried she could have caught a sexual disease, or even be pregnant: and this is where the story takes an intriguing turn. She then decided to phone Sarah — whom she had met at the seminar, and with whom Assange had been staying — and apparently confided to her that she’d had unprotected sex with him.
At that point, Sarah said that she, too, had slept with him.
As a result of this conversation, Sarah reportedly phoned an acquaintance of Assange and said that she wanted him to leave her apartment. (He refused to do so, and maintains that she only asked him to leave three days later, on the Friday of that week.)
How must Sarah have felt to discover that the man she’d taken to her bed three days before had already taken up with another woman? Furious? Jealous? Out for revenge? Perhaps she merely felt aggrieved for a fellow woman in distress.
Having taken stock of their options for a day or so, on Friday, August 20, Sarah and Jessica took drastic action.
They went together to a Stockholm police station where they said they were seeking advice on how to proceed with a complaint by Jessica against Assange.
According to one source, Jessica wanted to know if it was possible to force Assange to undergo an HIV test. Sarah, the seasoned feminist warrior, said she was there merely to support Jessica. But she also gave police an account of what had happened between herself and Assange a week before.
The female interviewing officer, presumably because of allegations of a sabotaged condom in one case and a refusal to wear one in the second, concluded that both women were victims: that Jessica had been raped, and Sarah subject to sexual molestation.
It was Friday evening. A duty prosecuting attorney, Maria Kjellstrand, was called.
She agreed that Assange should be sought on suspicion of rape.
The following day, Sarah was questioned again, cementing the allegation of sexual misconduct against Assange. That evening, detectives tried to find him and searched Stockholm’s entertainment district — but to no avail.
By Sunday morning, the news had leaked to the Press.
Indeed, it has been suggested that the two women had discussed approaching a tabloid newspaper to maximise Assange’s discomfort. By now, the authorities realised they had a high-profile case on their hands and legal papers were rushed to the weekend home of the chief prosecutor, who dismissed the rape charge.
She felt that what had occurred were no more than minor offences.
But the case was now starting to spin out of control.
Sarah next spoke to a newspaper, saying: ‘In both cases, the sex had been consensual from the start but had eventually turned into abuse.’
Rejecting accusations of an international plot to trap Assange, she added: ‘The accusations were not set up by the Pentagon or anybody else. The responsibility for what happened to me and the other girl lies with a man with a twisted view of women, who has a problem accepting the word “no”.’
The two women then instructed Claes Borgstrom, a so-called ‘gender lawyer’ who is a leading supporter of a campaign to extend the legal definition of rape to help bring more rapists to justice.
As a result, in September the case was reopened by the authorities, and last month Interpol said Assange was wanted for ‘sex crimes’.
Yesterday, his lawyer Mark Stephens said the Swedish warrant was a ‘political stunt’ and that he would fight it on the grounds that it could lead to the WikiLeaks founder being handed over to the American authorities (Sweden has an extradition treaty with the U.S.).
Assange continues to insist that he has done nothing wrong, and that his sexual encounters with both women were consensual.
But last week, the Swedish High Court refused to hear his final appeal against arrest, and extradition papers were presented to police in England, where Assange is currently in hiding. He is able to stay in this country thanks to a six-month visa which expires in the spring.
So what to make of a story in which it’s hard to argue that any of the parties emerges with much credit? How reliable are the two female witnesses?
Earlier this year, Sarah is reported to have posted a telling entry on her website, which she has since removed. But a copy has been retrieved and widely circulated on the internet.
Entitled ‘7 Steps to Legal Revenge’, it explains how women can use courts to get their own back on unfaithful lovers.
Step 7 says: ‘Go to it and keep your goal in sight. Make sure your victim suffers just as you did.’ (The highlighting of text is Sarah’s own.)
As for Assange, he remains in hiding in Britain, and his website continues to release classified American documents that are daily embarrassing the U.S. government.
Clearly, he is responsible for an avalanche of political leaks. Whether he is also guilty of sexual offences remains to be seen.
But the more one learns about the case, the more one feels that, unlike the bell in Enkoping, the allegations simply don’t ring true.