Politics

UK taxpayers could buy a lot with the millions spent policing Julian Assange

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London in December 2012.
Credit: Peter Macdiarmid

LONDON, UK — You can do a lot with 10 million British pounds in London.

It’s equal to over $15 million. Here that’s a year’s worth of public education for roughly 1,000 kids. Or a year’s worth of street policing by more than 300 officers. Or just one really nice one-bedroom apartment.

It’s also the amount of money the British taxpayer has spent so far keeping Metropolitan Police officers stationed 24/7 for almost three years outside the Embassy of Ecuador, on the off chance that one high-profile occupant strolls out.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been holed up in the brick building since June 20, 2012. Ecuador granted him asylum after he lost an appeal at the UK Supreme Court against extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning on sex crime allegations.

The police have orders to arrest Assange as soon as he sets foot on British soil. So every day for almost 1,000 days, officers with not much to do have stood outside the building in London’s Knightsbridge neighborhood, just across the street from Harrods’ department store.

There, a crystal-encrusted bottle of Robert Piguet perfume sells for 10,000 pounds — just under the 10,500-pound ($16,000) daily cost of the embassy’s police detail.

To the best of anyone’s knowledge, Assange — who looked like a man who hadn’t seen the sun in a while, even before his asylum claim — hasn’t been outdoors, beyond the balcony, in more than two and a half years.

Sometimes he peeks out the window, said an officer stationed in front of the building on Wednesday afternoon.

“A personal trainer’s been around lately,” the officer said. “We can see him doing his boxercizing.”

The Met, as London’s police force is known, is facing massive budget cuts as a result of austerity measures, as is virtually every public institution in Britain.

Playing an extended game of cat-and-mouse with an eccentric Australian may not be the ideal use of public money.

“There's no doubt that it's a drain,” Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe told London’s LBC Radio, which broke the cost story last week.

"We're gonna have to look to see what other opportunities we have, how we can do that differently in the future, because it's sucking our resources in.”

Sweden issued an international warrant for Assange’s arrest in November 2010 so he could be questioned about sexual assault claims made by two different women.

Assange has said publicly he believes that going to Sweden would lead to his being extradited to the United States to face charges related to WikiLeaks’ publication of secret US military files and diplomatic cables.

On Aug. 18, Assange held a press conference where he said he expected to leave the embassy “soon.”

That was almost six months ago. There is no sign that he’s going anywhere.

More from GlobalPost: WikiLocked — in-depth coverage of Julian Assange’s asylum

Related Stories