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The Guardian report claiming WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange met with Paul Manafort is fake news, says the former consul in Ecuador’s London embassy, Fidel Narváez. But it is true that Trump’s ex-campaign chairman met with new Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno to discuss handing Assange over to the US.

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BEN NORTON: It’s The Real News Network, and I’m Ben Norton.

The United States government has secretly filed criminal charges against Julian Assange, the founder and editor of the whistleblowing journalism organization WikiLeaks. This has huge implications for journalism around the world, and could be an enormous blow to the freedom of the press here in the U.S., because Assange is not a U.S. citizen, and he has not done journalistic work inside the U.S. So the U.S. government is trying to criminally prosecute a journalist who is not even a citizen for publishing confidential government documents, which all major newspapers do, including the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Assange has never been charged with a crime, but he’s been trapped in the embassy of Ecuador inside London since 2012. He has feared that the British government would extradite him to the U.S. for prosecution, where he is afraid he could face the death penalty. In 2016, a United Nations human rights panel determined that Assange is being arbitrarily detained under international law, and that he must be freed and is due compensation. But still, in the past two years since that U.N. ruling, Assange has remained stuck in the Ecuadorian embassy.

And now corporate media outlets are spreading stories about Assange that WikiLeaks maintains are totally false. On November 27, the British newspaper the Guardian published a story claiming that Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort met Assange inside the Ecuadorian embassy three times for secret talks in 2013, 2015, and in mid-2016. The Guardian report implied that this was related to WikiLeaks’ publication of leaked Democratic Party documents and emails. Wikileaks actually says this story is completely false, and has pledged to sue the Guardian for it. WikiLeaks is currently raising money for a lawsuit. Assange and Manafort both say that the story is fake, and even the Washington Post has actually cast doubt on the Guardian report.

Well, now a former diplomat in the Ecuadorian embassy in London is also speaking out. Fidel Narvaez told the British news website the Canary that the story is false, and today here we are joined by Fidel Narvaez to discuss the scandal. He is an Ecuadorian human rights activist and former diplomat. Fidel Narvaez served as consul and then first secretary at the Ecuadorian embassy in London from 2010 until July 2018. Thanks for joining us, Fidel.

FIDEL NARVAEZ: Thank you for having me.

BEN NORTON: So can you respond first–there was a lot of things we can discuss here. We can talk about the new Ecuadoran president. Lenin Moreno has been pushing for Assange to leave the embassy, after he was granted refuge there by the previous president Rafael Correa. But before we talk about that conflict, let’s specifically talk about this Guardian report which you, Assange, and WikiLeaks, and Manafort all say is a fake report.

The Guardian also has come under attack because it disguised the fact that this story was actually co-written by Fernando Villavicencio, who is an anti-Correa opposition activist who has worked closely with the U.S. government. And Villavicencio himself has been repeatedly accused of fabrication. In fact, in 2014, the Ecuadoran public news agency Andes reported that Villavicencio doctored an official government document, and that the Guardian published it as supposed news without verifying it. So do you think that this is another case where the Guardian has not verified the story, and has published fake information?

FIDEL NARVAEZ: Yeah. The latest Guardian publication about [inaudible], it’s a fabrication. I’m surprised, because the big implication that such a story has. But I’m not that surprised that the Guardian is again publishing stories on Assange and WikiLeaks. The sources that you have mentioned, they have been used previously by the Guardian in other stories that I remember challenging, as part of the embassy. That was part of my job.

And I can especially referred to the previous one when they fake completely a supposed Russian plan to smuggle Julian Assange from the embassy. In that story they name me as the supposed contact with Russians, with Moscow. Is another fabrication from the Guardian, and it’s disgusting, really.

BEN NORTON: And can you talk more about the previous reports, along with this report? The Guardian, what’s interesting, is that in the digital version of this report it disguised the fact that this story had three coauthors. The digital version only shows Luke Harding and Dan Collins. However, in the print version of the story, it actually showed that there were three coauthors. The third was Villavicencio, who is this Ecuadoran activist who was previously strongly opposed to the government of Rafael Correa, which was now replaced by the current president Lenin Moreno. And as I mentioned previously, Ecuadoran public news have accused Villavicencio of publishing doctored information. So if this has happened in the past, why would the Guardian continue using this person as a critical source? And a photo on Twitter shows Luke Harding and Dan Collins, in fact, meeting with the CEO in Quito, Ecuador. So it’s very clear that he is one of the main sources.

FIDEL NARVAEZ: Yeah. Yeah, most probably he’s one of the main sources. And the sources of that source, I assume, is the a security company that used to be in charge of the security of the embassy, who was contacted by the intelligence services in Ecuador. They have been pretty hostile to Julian Assange during those years, producing very misrepresentations in reports about the day to day in the embassy, trying to misrepresent Julian’s stay in the embassy. And these latest fabrications, they have clearly a political aim. It is a clear attempt to link Assange, WikiLeaks, to Russian collusion and Trump administration, which I don’t think, Idon’t think there are grounds for that at all.

BEN NORTON: Yeah, and let’s talk about-

FIDEL NARVAEZ: Why the Guardian keeps using VIllavicencio and those sources is a question for the Guardian. But I tell you that the Guardian is processing my complaint, because I’m complaining about defamation. It’s not an easy thing to cope with in the UK if a major newspaper accuses you of plotting with Russian diplomats or Russian intelligence. So the Guardian was already processing that complaint, and they went ahead with the story of Manafort, which I don’t think they will be able to substantiate. And I think we’re going to see a lawsuit by WikiLeaks.

BEN NORTON: Something that you pointed out in your interview with the Canary, which is a British news website that reported on how you are calling this story false, you pointed out that the London embassy of Ecuador is extremely surveilled. I mean, this is one of the most highly surveilled places, really, in the world. So there’s video footage and meticulous documentation of everyone who enters and exits exits the embassy. Also, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald has pointed this exact fact out, that if this story were true we should have video and photo evidence. Of course, we don’t have any video or photos of Manafort supposedly entering the embassy three times. So can you respond to that point as well?

FIDEL NARVAEZ: There’s video footage and pictures of every single person that enters that embassy in the last six years. Since Julian Assange took refuge at the embassy, the whole embassy is surveilled. By the Ecuadorean security cameras that record 24 hours, seven days a week, every single movement in there. But the exterior of the embassy is also surveilled by other cameras. Not just the normal cameras that exist in London, but we are completely sure that the neighboring buildings, they have surveilling cameras spying on Ecuador, registering every single visitor, every single movement. There are previous occasions when other controversial visitors, to say, have been reported by exterior cameras. It’s impossible that anybody will enter that embassy without being, without leaving a clear record. It’s impossible. And the reports claiming that Mr. Manafort was not just three times, four times, you read carefully the report, and there’s not, there’s no record of that?

And it’s not just the cameras. Every visitor needs to be approved by the head of mission. Normally the ambassador or whoever is in charge of that embassy. To be approved, the security personnel draws a profile of every visitor, and there’s a record of that. And every visitor needs to register, needs to leave a copy of their identification with the embassy. The Guardian doesn’t have anything of that, and won’t have, because it’s a fabrication. This is false and disgusting.

BEN NORTON: And in addition to this story, we also saw a report on December 3 in the New York Times which said that in mid-2017, Manafort met with Moreno, Lenin Moreno, the new president of Ecuador, to try to work out a deal. Moreno wanted debt relief from the U.S., and potential Chinese investment. And in return, Manafort offered to help extradite Assange to the U.S., to help hand over Assange to the U.S. for prosecution. Do you think that this story is true? And if it is true, why do you think that Lenin Moreno has turned on Assange when the previous president, Rafael Correa, had previously given refuge to the WikiLeaks editor in the first place?

FIDEL NARVAEZ: This story about Manafort meeting with Lenin Moreno is true. It is not a secret. It was reported normally and immediately. Mr. Moreno met with many people before he took presidency. When they met, Moreno was not president yet; he was president-elect, apparently. And this is true, and the sources that the Guardian is using for the fabrications immediately starting [inaudible]brating connections between Manafort and WikiLeaks or Assange on nonsenses. The reports that we have is that it was Moreno who put Assange on the table in that meeting with Manafort. According to the reports that we have, Manafort just basically listened. Moreno doesn’t want to have Assange at the embassy. He never wanted. Not even when he was vice president of Correa.

So why the change on his policies? Because he has basically betrayed the movement, and the people who elected him, and the concrete political project. And he’s implemented the project of the opposition. And the project of the opposition is a very pro-U.S. project. Moreno has, in fact, re-opened the doors for the U.S. in Ecuador. Now we have U.S. military planes operating again in Ecuador. That is against our constitution, for example. And the asylum to Julian Assange was granted by President Correa, who is right now the main political enemy of Moreno. So they will want to finish with Assange, and they are doing everything possible to do that.

BEN NORTON: Yeah. And then finally, the most recent report, an update on this, is that on Thursday, December 6, we saw that the that Moreno says now that he has worked with Britain, and Britain has assured that it will not extradite Assange to the U.S. And Moreno is now openly, publicly calling for Assange to leave the Ecuadorean embassy in London, insisting that if Assange leaves he will not be sent to the U.S. Do you think that this is true, that the the British government will secure his safety?

FIDEL NARVAEZ: Well, what Lenin Moreno is claiming is not something new. And there’s a key point on this that we need to understand. Political asylum is not equivalent to protecting you from the electrical chair. From the death penalty. Political asylum is protecting your rights integrally. So if there is a risk of Julian Assange being sentenced to a life sentence, to spend his life in prison, that’s absolutely unacceptable. If there is a risk of Julian Assange being sentenced to 30, 40 years in the security prison, as Chelsea Manning was condemned, that’s absolutely unacceptable. That’s why Julian Assange has political asylum from Ecuador; to protect his rights.

So the UK has claimed that from the very beginning, in the year 2012, saying that in the case of the risk of death penalty, they won’t extradite a person to a country where the death penalty is in place. So that’s not, that’s nothing new. But this does unacceptable if now Lenin Moreno wants to ask Assange to leave the embassy because supposedly he had reached an agreement with the UK. There’s no agreement. That’s something that was always there. We always knew, and that’s unacceptable.

BEN NORTON: We’ll have to end our conversation there. We were joined by Fidel Narvaez, who is an Ecuadorean human rights activist and a former diplomat. He served as consul and then first secretary at the Ecuadorian embassy in London from 2010 until July 2018. Thanks for joining us, Fidel.

For The Real News Network, I’m Ben Norton.

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Ben Norton is a producer and reporter for The Real News. His work focuses primarily on U.S. foreign policy, the Middle East, media criticism, and movements for economic and social justice. Ben Norton was previously a staff writer at Salon and AlterNet. You can find him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.