The former head of operations of security company UC Global told a court that the company accused of spying on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in the Embassy of Ecuador acted on the orders of Ecuador’s intelligence services.
Michel Wallemacq was giving evidence to a Spanish court investigating claims the UC Global’s founder David Morales ordered video and audio surveillance of meetings between Julian Assange and visitors, including lawyers, doctors and journalists.
Assange took refuge in the Embassy in Knightsbridge, London between June 2012 and April 2019, when he was expelled and arrested.
He faces extradition to the US and faces 17 counts of the US Espionage Act and one count under the US Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which carry a maximum prison sentence of 175 years.
Two former staff of UC Global have claimed in anonymous witness statements that the company’s founder supplied surveillance footage and audio recordings to “American friends”, which were passed on to the CIA.
The 15-minute hearing took place as part of the court’s investigation into a criminal complaint filed by Julian Assange against UC Global and Morales in July 2019.
Wallemacq confirmed to the court in a hearing on 11 November that he worked for David Morales and gave orders to the other workers of UC Global in the embassy, said Assange’s Spanish lawyer, Aitor Martínez.
Wallemacq: Survieillance claims “untrue”
The former UC Global operations manager said staff collected information about the visitors of Assange, following orders from the National Intelligence Secretariat of Ecuador, Senain, according to accounts of two people who attended the hearing.
The Ecuadorian intelligence service gave UC Global instructions to control the access to Assange and collect information about visitors who met him in the Embassy, he said. But he denied allegations made in witness statements by two former UC Global staff that UC Global worked for the CIA.
Neither Wallemacq nor Morales participated in espionage or instructed UC Global staff to do so, said Wallemacq. “The only microphones hidden to record meetings were installed by the team of Julian Assange,” he told the court.
UC Global sent a lot of information about people who were going to meet Assange, but always from open sources, he said.
He went on to tell the court that claims Morales travelled to the US to deliver copies of video footage from the Embassy several times a month were untrue, and also denied that UC Global staff followed and photographed Assange’s lawyer Baltasar Garzon with the former president of Ecuador Rafael Correa at Madrid’s Adolfo Suárez-Barajas Airport.
Wallemacq declined to answer the questions of the lawyers of Assange, the judge and the prosecutor, only answering the questions of his lawyer.
The judge and Assange’s lawyers have raised questions about the existence of an encryption key used to encrypt a 1.1 Megabyte file found in Wallemacq’s company email inbox.
The email, dated 18 January had the subject heading “Aitor Martínez Documents” – a reference to Assange’s Spanish lawyer. It was sent to Wallemacq from another UC Global email account called “Hotel” – a code name used by UC Global for the Ecuadorian Embassy.
“As far as I know, this email has not been decrypted yet. I don’t know now if the judicial police has been able to break the code,” said Martínez.
Wallemacq gave his testimony by video-conference from a court in Puerto de Santa María, Cádiz, where he lives.
Lawyer to testify on bugged meetings
Melinda Taylor, a lawyer specialising in human rights and international criminal law who visited Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy, is due to testify on 13 November.
According to court documents, UC Global allegedly recorded meeting between Taylor, Assange and Assange’s partner, Stella Moris.
Four audio tracks in WAV format of more than 12 hours in length were allegedly found on the computers of UC Global during the judicial investigations.
According to court documents, the recordings were made by a magnetic microphone attached to one of the fire extinguishers.
Emails between the workers of the security company filed in court show that UC Global staff member bought the microphone in July 2017 from a store called “Espiamos”.
A former employee of UC Global, who has given evidence anonymously as a protected witness, said in a witness statement that he installed the microphone. The microphone was delivered by this same witness to the National High Court.
Taylor will testify before judge José de la Mata, also by video-conference from The Hague in the Netherlands.
Italian journalist’s electronic devices photographed
The Italian investigative journalist Stefania Maurizi, a journalist for the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, will testify as a witness in the Spanish National Court on 19 November.
A document presented by Assange’s lawyers before the National Court on January 16, states a folder with the name “Stefania Maurizi objetos que porta carpeta (1) 29-10-2017” was found on UC Global’s computers.
It contained 18 JPEG photographs of the electronic devices that the journalist carried on one of her visits to Assange were stored, including three mobile phones, two digital recorders, several phone chargers and 21 USB sticks.
Photographs show that UC Global workers disassembled one of Maurizi’s mobile phones to remove the SIM card and photograph its serial number and the phone’s IMEI code.
Maurizi will testify before the judge by videoconference from Rome.
Wallemacq was the link with Ecuadorian Embassy security team
José de la Mata, judge of the Central Court of Instruction number five of the Spanish National High, initially ordered Wallemacq to make a statement on 18 June. The judge also commissioned a report on the emails sent and received at Wallemacq’s work email address.
On August 21, the judge decided to include Wallemacq in the judicial investigation. Wallemacq told the court he coordinated a team of people at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, according to a court order dated 21 August.
According to the order, Wallemacq stated that he held a position of responsibility and coordination over the team of people that made up the company’s staff at the headquarters of the Ecuadorian embassy.
In evidence that appears to contradict his statements yesterday, Wallemacq said that he ordered UC Global workers at the embassy to retain and photograph the ID and electronic devices carried by people visiting Julian Assange, and to record and report on the activist’s meetings with his visits.
He also reviewed the recordings of the meetings and participated in the preparation of the reports, the order states.
“During the investigation of the case, numerous investigative proceedings have been carried out, including the statement of Michelle Wallemacq as a witness. However, during his testimony, the possibility that Wallemak, a close collaborator of Morales, had participated directly in the execution of the events was revealed,” a Spanish court order reports.