Assange extradition closer after U.K. ruling

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange leaves the Supreme Court in London, in this Feb. 1, 2012 file photo. AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth

(CBS/AP) LONDON - Britain's Supreme Court has rejected WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange's bid to reopen his extradition case, meaning that the controversial anti-secrecy campaigner could be sent to Sweden by the end of the month.

Assange is wanted for questioning in Sweden after two women accused him of sexual misconduct during a visit to the country in mid-2010.

In a five-point ruling published Thursday, the court rejected arguments that Assange's legal team hadn't been given the chance to properly cross-examine the evidence which justices relied on to deny the Australian's appeal against extradition.

The development effectively exhausts Assange's legal options in Britain, where he has been fighting the extradition demand since late 2010. Assange could still apply to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, but legal experts say the 40-year-old stands little chance there.

Ms. Gareth Pierce, Assange's U.K-based Lawyer, had no immediate comment, but a WikiLeaks spokesperson said the ruling was a "great disappointment."

"Well I just talked to him earlier today and he's just looking into his options. There is no decision on his next steps. Of course it's a great disappointment but he is really grateful for all of the support he has had. He is looking into more options with his lawyers as we speak and he might give out some statement later," Kristinn Hrafnsson told CBS News in a phone interview.

Assange denies any wrongdoing, and has suggested the case is being manipulated to political ends by foes angered over Wikileaks' revelations. The website has been responsible for the largest leaks of classified documents in U.S. history.

The Supreme Court has given Assange a two-week-long grace period before extradition proceedings can start. Once the two-week period is up, officials have 10 days to fly Assange to Sweden.

Assuming that the European Court does not intervene, that means that Assange could be removed from the country any time between June 28 and July 7.

British legal expert Joshua Rozenberg said that if Assange does appeal to the European Court, they could consider it "very quickly" - probably in a matter of a few weeks - given its high-profile nature and the fact that Sweden is not considered a nation where Assange could reasonably expect to face ill treatment.

"They might find it quite easy to throw it out," he said.

If in the unlikely event the court believes Assange's human rights are at risk by being extradited, and the case is taken up in earnest, the process could take another year, said Rozenberg.

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