Former Ecuadorian consul says diplomats were targets of spy operation at London embassy

Jul 28, 2020 | 22 comments

A former consul at Ecuador’s London embassy claims that he and other officials were victims of espionage by the Spanish company hired to provide embassy security. Although the primary spy target was WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who had been granted asylum at the embassy, Fidel Narváez says that the embassy staff was also targeted for suveillance.

Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in 2014.

Spain’s National Court heard Narváez‘s and other testimony Monday in an investigation into whether the Spanish security company was spying on Assange during the seven years he spent in the London embassy.

The court is investigating whether David Morales, a Spaniard, and his Undercover Global S.L. security agency invaded the privacy of Assange and his visitors at the embassy by secretly recording their meetings. The intelligence that Morales’ company collected is suspected of being handed over to third parties, according to court papers.

Among those answering the court’s questions Monday were prominent Spanish lawyer Baltasar Garzón, who is part of Assange’s legal team and Stella Morris, a legal adviser and Assange’s partner, who revealed earlier this year that she had two children with him while he lived in the embassy. Staff of the Spanish security company are due to testify on Tuesday.

“There was not only espionage against Assange, his friends and lawyers, but also against the diplomats,” Narváez said in testimony. “It is impossible to argue that there was no espionage and we do not know if there was damage to Ecuador’s national interests,” he stressed.

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Among the questions the court will attempt to answer, is whether the U.S. had direct involvement in the spy operation.

Assange, whose lawyers filed a complaint at the court to trigger the investigation, is in a British prison after being removed from the embassy last year. He is fighting extradition to the U.S., where he faces espionage charges over the activities of WikiLeaks.
The court is conducting an investigation, begun last year, before deciding whether there is evidence of wrongdoing that warrants a trial.

Undercover Global, also known as UC Global, was hired by Ecuador’s government to provide security at the Ecuadorean embassy in London between 2015 and 2018. Its main task was to secure the property’s perimeter, including the deployment of security staff, due to Assange’s presence inside, court papers say.

According to the National Court summons, the preliminary investigation has raised suspicions that, under the cover of his security work, Morales used bugging devices and video equipment to record Assange’s meetings with visitors. They included his lawyers, politicians, journalists, medical staff, Ecuadorean diplomats, the former head of Ecuador’s National Intelligence Service, Rommy Vallejo, and longtime Republican congressman for California Dana Rohrabacher.

Garzón said after testifying that the court showed him a video of himself talking to Assange inside the embassy.

“This is quite scandalous, something we think only happens in the movies, in spy movies, but this is not a spy movie because the life of a person is at stake,” Garzón told reporters outside the court.

Morales passed on the recordings to third parties who are not yet identified. However, the court papers note allegations that the intelligence was passed to Zohar Lahav, described by Assange’s lawyers as a security officer at Las Vegas Sands Corp., a U.S. casino and resort company based in Nevada. The court says it has no contact information for Lahav.

The court refused a request by Assange’s legal team to summon as witnesses Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson and the company’s Senior Vice President and Chief Security Officer Brian Nagel. The court papers gave no explanation for the refusal.

Assange’s legal team says the court has asked U.S. authorities to question Lahav and Rohrabacher on its behalf.

Morales also asked his company’s staff to take Assange’s fingerprints from a glass and is suspected of copying the ID documents of visitors, the summons says.

The court is investigating UC Global’s bank accounts, international travel records, cellphone, email and Internet access records, and its online purchases of recording equipment.

Morales was arrested last year and granted conditional release.

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