WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange reaches plea deal with US

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Monday agreed to a plea deal with the U.S. Justice Department that will allow him to go free after he spent five years in a British prison, according to court documents filed Tuesday.

Assange, 52, is expected to plead guilty to a felony charge of conspiring to obtain and distribute classified information in violation of the Espionage Act, The Wall Street Journal reported. In exchange, Assange will be released from a prison in the United Kingdom, ending his long standoff with the U.S. government, according to The New York Times.

WikiLeaks published thousands of confidential U.S. military records and diplomatic cables about America’s actions in Iraq and Afghanistan during the 2000s, according to The Wall Street Journal. During the 2016 presidential campaign, WikiLeaks released thousands of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee, leading to revelations that embarrassed the party and candidate Hillary Clinton, the Times reported.

According to court documents, the case was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands.

The plea is expected to occur on Wednesday morning in Saipan, the U.S. territory that is part of the Mariana Islands in the western Pacific, The Wall Street Journal reported. He is expected to be sentenced to the 62 months he has already spent in a London prison, and be allowed to return to his native Australia after his sentencing, according to the people.

According to court records, Assange will return to Australia, his country of citizenship, after a Tuesday court proceeding ends, USA Today reported.

Assange was indicted by a federal jury in 2019 on 18 counts related to WikiLeaks’ release and distribution of national security documents, according to the Times. They included materials sent to the organization in 2010 and 2013 by former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, the newspaper reported.

U.S. officials alleged that Assange persuaded Manning into obtaining thousands of pages of diplomatic cables that potentially endangered confidential sources, according to CNN. The revelations of activity reports and information related to detainees at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba also put national security at risk, officials said.

WikiLeaks released more than 90,000 documents related to Afghanistan and more than 400,000 documents from the war in Iraq, according to USA Today.

Assange has been held in the high-security Belmarsh Prison on the outskirts of London for five years, NBC News reported. Previously, he spent seven years in self-exile at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, according to the news outlet.

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