WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange leaves UK after plea deal

Agreement set to end long-running legal saga over one of biggest releases of classified materials in US history

WikiLeaks has released footage of founder Julian Assange boarding a plane ahead of an expected court hearing in the Northern Mariana Islands. Video: Reuters

Julian Assange has left the UK after striking a plea deal with US prosecutors to end the WikiLeaks founder’s legal saga over leaked documents and allow him to walk free after years of incarceration and confinement.

WikiLeaks said on X on Tuesday that Mr Assange had been released from Belmarsh, a high-security prison in London, and had already flown out of the UK after being granted bail. Stephen Parkinson, the UK’s director of public prosecutions, confirmed Mr Assange’s departure and said a bail hearing had been held last Thursday, in private at the defendant’s request.

According to court filings, Mr Assange has agreed with the US Department of Justice to plead guilty to one charge of conspiracy to obtain and disseminate classified information linked to US national defence.

The deal with the justice department “has not yet been formally finalised”, WikiLeaks said, adding that more information would be provided as Mr Assange “returns to Australia”.


The case involves what prosecutors have described as one of the biggest leaks of classified material in US history. Washington has long maintained that intelligence agents’ lives were put at risk because of the information disclosure – a claim Mr Assange’s lawyers have disputed.

Julian Assange on board a flight to Bangkok after his release from prison in the UK. Photograph: @WikiLeaks/PA Wire

“Julian Assange is free,” WikiLeaks said, adding that he had “paid severely” for publishing stories of “government corruption and human rights abuses”.

He is scheduled to submit his plea on Wednesday morning in federal court in Saipan, which is part of the Northern Mariana Islands, a US commonwealth north of Guam. Sentencing is set to take place immediately after the plea submission. Mr Assange has already served 62 months in a UK jail and prosecutors are not seeking additional imprisonment.

Explainer: Who is Julian Assange and what are the details of his plea deal?Opens in new window ]

The Saipan court was chosen because Mr Assange declined to carry out proceedings in the continental US. It is also closer to his home country of Australia, where he is expected to go after the proceedings conclude, according to a letter from prosecutors to the court.

“This is finally over,” Stella Assange, the wife of the WikiLeaks founder, told the BBC.

People walk past a mural depicting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on a wall of an apartment building in Balashikha, outside Moscow, on Tuesday. Photograph: Maxim Shipenkov/EPA-EFE

Mr Assange’s chartered jet landed in Bangkok on Tuesday and was due to continue on to Saipan. Ms Assange launched an “emergency appeal” on social media for $520,000 (€485,000) that she said Mr Assange was “obligated to pay back to the Australian government” for the flight.

The agreement aims to resolve a prolonged battle between the US Department of Justice and Mr Assange, the controversial advocate for government transparency whose legal troubles have spanned multiple countries.

Julian Assange: US assurances on free speech and death penalty pave way for extraditionOpens in new window ]

Australia’s Labor government has been privately lobbying Washington to find a solution to Mr Assange’s case since it was elected in 2022. Prime minister Anthony Albanese told the country’s parliament that Mr Assange’s release was “a welcome development” but that proceedings “are crucial and they are delicate”.

“Regardless of the views that people have about Mr Assange’s activities, the case has dragged on for too long,” Mr Albanese added. “There is nothing to be gained by his continued incarceration and we want him brought home to Australia.”

Mr Assange founded WikiLeaks in 2006 as a platform to share leaked materials, shedding what he argued was a necessary light on secretive and powerful organisations, including governments and companies.

In 2010 the site published a cache of military and secret documents leaked by Chelsea Manning, the former US army intelligence analyst who, while serving in Iraq, copied hundreds of thousands of military incident logs and about 250,000 diplomatic cables.

Explainer: Who is Julian Assange?Opens in new window ]

WikiLeaks drew praise for revelations about US operations in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq. But critics, including the US government, said it violated the law and put people’s safety at risk.

Sweden in 2010 issued an arrest warrant for Mr Assange linked to a rape investigation, and he left that country for the UK. In 2012, following a ruling from the UK’s highest court to allow his extradition to Sweden, Ecuador granted Mr Assange asylum after he entered its London embassy. In 2019, when Ecuador revoked Mr Assange’s asylum status, London police dragged him out of the embassy to arrest him at the request of the US justice department.

US prosecutors sought to extradite Mr Assange to face an indictment unsealed in 2019, charging him with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion over agreeing to break a password to a classified US government computer. He was later hit with additional espionage charges, including obtaining and disclosing national defence information.

Mr Assange has been fighting efforts to bring him to the US to face the charges, arguing he faced a lifetime in prison if convicted. In May, the high court in London gave him permission to appeal against an order allowing his extradition.

“This case has absorbed considerable time and resource from the criminal justice system over many years,” the Mr Parkinson, the UK’s DPP, said in a statement on Tuesday. The plea agreement would “[deliver] justice”, he added, and “save the continuing substantial resource outlay involved in litigating this matter further in England”.

Ms Manning was charged and convicted of espionage in connection with the WikiLeaks materials. Her 35-year prison sentence was commuted by Barack Obama shortly before he left the White House in 2017. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024