Britain Arrests WikiLeaks Founder in Sex Inquiry

Assange, a 39-year-old Australian, was arrested by officers from Scotland Yard’s extradition unit when he went to a central London police station by prior agreement with the authorities, the police said. A court hearing was expected later.

In a statement, the police said: “Officers from the Metropolitan Police extradition unit have this morning arrested Julian Assange on behalf of the Swedish authorities on suspicion of rape.”

Assange denies the charges of sexual misconduct said to have been committed while he was in Sweden in August. It was not immediately clear if Assange would resist extradition to Sweden for questioning by prosecutors there.

Previously, his British lawyer, Mark Stephens, has suggested Assange might resist extradition on the grounds that Swedish authorities could interview him by video-link from Stockholm or at their embassy in London and that the extradition request itself is politically-motivated.

“It’s about time we got to the end of the day and we got some truth, justice and rule of law,” Stephens told reporters on Tuesday.

“Julian Assange has been the one in hot pursuit to vindicate himself to clear his good name.” Mr. Stephens said his client had been seeking to learn from the Swedish prosecutor “what the allegations are he has to face and also the evidence against him, which he still hasn’t seen,” The Press Association news agency said.

While it had been widely anticipated, the arrest opened an array of new questions about Mr. Assange’s future, even as the Justice Department in Washington said it was conducting what Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. called “a very serious, active, ongoing investigation that is criminal in nature” into the WikiLeaks matter.

Over the past 10 days, WikiLeaks has been publishing documents from a trove of over 250,000 cables between the State Department in Washington and American diplomats abroad. Assange has threatened to release many more diplomatic cables if legal action is taken against him or his organization.

“Over 100,000 people” were given the entire archive of 251,287 cables in encrypted form, Assange said on Friday in a question-and-answer session on the Web site of the British newspaper The Guardian.

“If something happens to us, the key parts will be released automatically,” Assange said

Assange’s threat of further disclosures poses a problem for the Obama administration as it explores ways to prosecute Mr. Assange or the group in relation to the archive of diplomatic cables it obtained, reportedly from a low-ranking Army intelligence analyst.

The British police statement said Assange was “accused by the Swedish authorities of one count of unlawful coercion, two counts of sexual molestation and one count of rape, all alleged to have been committed in August 2010.”

The arrest was made under a European arrest warrant “by appointment at a London police station at 09:30 today,” the statement said.

The charges involve sexual encounters that two women say began as consensual but became nonconsensual after Assange was no longer using a condom. Assange has denied any wrongdoing and suggested that the charges were trumped up in retaliation for his WikiLeaks work, though there is no public evidence to suggest a connection.

His arrest came challenges mounted to his operations, as computer server companies, Amazon.com and PayPal.com, have cut off commercial cooperation with WikiLeaks.

On Monday, a Swiss bank froze an account held by Assange that had been used to collect donations for WikiLeaks. Marc Andrey, a spokesman for the bank, PostFinance, an arm of the Swiss postal service, said the account was closed because Assange “gave us false information when he opened the account,” asserting inaccurately that he lived in Switzerland. New York Times