Tuesday

13th Nov 2018

Heads start rolling in WikiLeaks affair

  • 'I'm relieved that he didn't commit suicide' an EU source said (Photo: Wolfgang Staudt)

The WikiLeaks affair has claimed its first victim after Germany's vice-chancellor Guido Westerwelle on Thursday (3 December) sacked his chief of staff for spying for the Americans. Italy's Prime Minister has also been put in a pickle ahead of a confidence vote in parliament, and reports indicate that WikiLeaks mastermind Julian Assange is to be arrested shortly by UK police.

Mr Westerwelle's chief of staff, Helmut Metzner, admitted that he gave regular information to the US embassy in Berlin, and has been "relieved from his duties," a spokesman for the Liberal Free Democrats (FDP) said in a statement.

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US diplomatic cables published this week by WikiLeaks reported the content of closed-doors coalition negotiations between the FDP and chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union based on input from an unnamed informer.

Philip Murphy, the US ambassador in Berlin, said the mole was a "young, up-and-coming party loyalist," who gave a detailed account of an internal government row over nuclear disarmament. The informant also spoke about veteran conservative Wolfgang Schauble, the current finance minister, as "neurotic" and "an angry old man."

According to the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the 41-year old Mr Metzner will continue to work for the party, even after losing his top-job.

"I'm relieved that he didn't commit suicide. This is a consequence [of the leaks] not to be excluded - this has the potential to end people's careers," a contact in the EU institutions said.

Another official in the spotlight is Swedish diplomat Johan Frisell who briefed the US on internal talks between EU ministers about the 2008 Georgia war. "I bet he's feeling pretty uncomfortable now," the EU source said. "Diplomats take risks in their judgments, but these are not normally put into open. Now his judgment on the situation is open to question."

The Candian ambassador to Kabul, William Crosbie, has also offered to resign if future cables damage his relationship with the Afghani administration.

In Italy, pressure is mounting for Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to step down, after a series of revelations concerning alleged bribe-taking from his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

Some 100 lawmakers on Thursday asked for Mr Berlusconi to step down ahead of a 14 December confidence vote. Among the protesters are former allies, indicating that the balance may be tipping in favour of the opposition this time around. The Putin allegation come on top of a long-standing series of sexual scandals suggesting Mr Berlusconi hosted sex-parties with underage girls.

The Italian media-mogul on Thursday night denied the allegations and took a snap flight to the Black Sea resort of Sochi to hold an unscheduled meeting with Mr Putin while on his way back from an OSCE summit in Kazakhastan.

The change to the Italian prime minister's plans was signalled just hours after the publication of US diplomatic cables alleging that he and Mr Putin had a secret business association in addition to their known personal and political links. In a 2009 cable, Ronald Spogli, the US ambassador in Rome, reports that contacts in both the opposition and Mr Berlusconi's own party "believe that Berlusconi and his cronies are profiting personally and handsomely from many of the energy deals between Italy and Russia."

The Georgian ambassador in Rome also the US diplomat that Mr Putin had promised the Italian leader a percentage of profits from any pipelines developed by Gazprom in coordination with Italy's energy company ENI.

The WikiLeaks cables may also have burned the leader of the Communist Party in Moldova, Vladimir Voronin, who is said to have offered $10 million last year for one of the ruling party leaders, Marian Lupu, to defect to his side. The revelation comes in a sensitive post-election coalition-building moment. Leading Communist Party member Mark Tkachuk has said the cables are "fairy tales."

Assange arrest

Meanwhile, Swedish courts have refused an appeal by WikiLeaks founder Julia Assange against an international arrest warrant in a sexual assault case filed by two women in August.

Britain's Independent newspaper and the mass-circulation Daily Mail report that police know Mr Assange's whereabouts in England and are expected to arrest him in the coming days. Mr Assange, who was born in Australia, has denied the allegations and has so far avoided arrest because Swedish authorities filled out an Interpol red notice incorrectly.

A WikiLeaks spokesman has said Mr Assange is facing assassination threats.

The WikiLeaks website itself on Friday faced a new obstacle after its US-registered domain name was taken down. The site can now be found under the Swiss domain name WikiLeaks.ch.

Merkel calls for 'real, true' EU army

Angela Merkel's much-anticipated speech to the European Parliament was brief and to the point. Her message: Europe is alone in the world, the EU should be more united on defence, but not on the economy.

Italy defiant on budget on eve of EU deadline

Italy would be committing economic "suicide" if it fell in line with EU rules, its deputy leader has said, in a sign that Rome has little intention of bowing to pressure ahead of Tuesday's budget deadline.

EU action on Hungary and Poland drowns in procedure

EU ministers' discussion on how to address rule of law issues in Poland and Hungary gets stuck on procedural issues, while Viktor Orban's government claims it is a target of the Brussels elite because of its anti-migration stance.

EU warns Romania not to abuse GDPR against press

Romania's data protection authority has threatened a €20m fine against reporters investigating high-level corruption. The European Commission has since issued a warning, telling Romanian authorities to give press exemptions when it comes to privacy rights.

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