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Ola Bini, person close to Julian Assange, arrested in Ecuador

A Swedish software engineer with close ties to Julian Assange was arrested while trying to leave Ecuador as authorities investigate the WikiLeaks founder’s alleged efforts to fight his eviction from the country’s embassy in London by blackmailing the country’s president.

Ola Bini was arrested Thursday at Quito’s airport as he prepared to board a flight to Japan, a senior Ecuadorian official told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A Swedish man by the same name describes himself on a blog as a software engineer working in Quito for the Center for Digital Autonomy, a group based in Ecuador and Spain focused on privacy, security and cryptography matters.

It makes no mention of any affiliation with WikiLeaks.On Twitter earlier Thursday, Bini called claims by the interior minister that Russian hackers and someone close to WikiLeaks were working inside Ecuador “very worrisome” news.

“This seems like a witch hunt to me,” Bini wrote.

The arrest came after police in London dragged Assange out of Ecuador’s embassy when his seven-year asylum was revoked.

The man had frequently traveled to Ecuador’s London embassy, Interior Minister María Paula Romo said, according to the BBC.

“He has been detained simply for investigation purposes,” she said.

“A person close to Wikileaks, who has been residing in Ecuador, was arrested this afternoon when he was preparing to travel to Japan,” Ecuador’s interior ministry tweeted late Thursday.

Ecuadorian officials believe Bini may be part of a blackmail ring assembled to pressure President Lenin Moreno and his government to allow Assange to remain in the embassy, according to the Times of London.

Ecuadorian diplomats told their counterparts in the UK that they were worried that Assange’s associates would try to seek revenge with cyberattacks and information leaks if he was handed over.

Britain agreed to assist Ecuador in shoring up its cybersecurity, the newspaper reported.

The Ecuadorian government accused WikiLeaks of being behind an anonymous online campaign implicating Moreno and his family in alleged corruption.

The leaked materials — dubbed the “INA Papers” — also contained private photographs of Moreno and his family.

Moreno, 66, said that Assange had no right to “hack private accounts and phones” without directly accusing him.

Bini’s friends described him as a soft-spoken geek who is being unfairly accused of plotting to destabilize the Ecuadorian government.

Vijay Prashad, who runs a Marxist publishing house based in India, considers himself a close pal.

Bini is “the last person who would ever be involved in an attempt overthrow a government,” he said, adding that he last saw Bini a few months ago in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Martin Fowler, a US-based computer programmer, tweeted: “I’m very concerned to hear that [he] has been arrested. He is a strong advocate and developer supporting privacy and has not been able to speak to any lawyers.”

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