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    Southeast Asia
     Sep 14, 2012


Cambodia helps squeeze WikiLeaks
By Justine Drennan

PHNOM PENH - Earlier this week, Swedish national Gottfrid Svartholm Warg was deported from Cambodia to Thailand under the escort of Swedish officials who then forced him to board a plane to Sweden.

From his arrest in Phnom Penh two weeks ago up until Tuesday, Cambodian and Swedish authorities remained tight-lipped, saying only that Svartholm Warg was arrested for copyright infringement as a co-founder of major online file-sharing site, Pirate Bay.

Soon after Svartholm Warg arrived in Sweden, it became clear to his associates that he had been brought home for reasons beyond his one-year prison sentence and multi-million dollar fine for Pirate Bay's activities and that he could face charges related

 

to his association with whistleblower website WikiLeaks. He was also charged on arrival with hacking tax records.

"At the airport, the government told him he is suspected of committing a crime, and he had no lawyer present," said Niklas Femerstrand, a friend of Svartholm Warg's in Cambodia who received the news from Peter Sunde, a Pirate Bay co-founder.

Svartholm Warg was then taken into custody by national prison authorities, according to Bertil Olofsson, head of the Swedish National Police's international section.

Later on Tuesday, Sweden's Prosecution Office announced on its website that a man arrested in Cambodia, who had been internationally wanted to serve a prison sentence for involvement in Pirate Bay, had been arrested by Swedish prosecutors on suspicion of hacking.

The announcement confirmed online rumors that Sweden wanted Svartholm Warg home at least in part because of his alleged involvement in a hack of Logica, an IT company contracted by the Swedish Tax Board. The hack is believed to have caused the leak of 9,000 Swedish tax numbers on a public website this past spring.

But Femerstrand and Sunde's bigger fear is that Svartholm Warg will be charged as part of a wider international crackdown on WikiLeaks, Femerstrand said. Svartholm Warg at one point allegedly helped host the WikiLeaks site so that its files could be accessible on the web. Svartholm Warg is also rumored to be personally associated with Julian Assange, founder and promoter of WikiLeaks.

International crackdown
Assange's current international legal troubles, including sexual assault charges in Sweden he has maintained were trumped up to target WikiLeaks, resonate with Svartholm Warg's. So do those of Kim Dotcom, whose file-sharing site Megaupload was shut down in January when he was arrested for copyright violation in New Zealand.

The US is pushing to extradite Dotcom from New Zealand for copyright infringement. Assange is concerned that he might face extradition from Sweden to the US in relation to his release of classified US government documents, should the United Kingdom extract Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy in London and send him to answer the Swedish sexual assault charges.

Many online commentators see US pressure on Cambodia and Sweden behind Svartholm Warg's arrest and deportation. They have cited US Trade Representative Ron Kirk's presence in Cambodia on the day of his arrest and WikiLeaked US cables that suggest US influence behind a 2006 Swedish crackdown on Pirate Bay. The US embassy in Phnom Penh would neither confirm nor deny these assertions.

Blaming the US has not stopped supporters of Svartholm Warg from also condemning the two governments directly involved in his deportation. In retaliation for Cambodia's decision, "hacktivist" groups Anonymous and NullCrew have announced that they have hacked into several Cambodian institutions, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Cambodian army, the Institute of Standards, the general taxation department, and the Ministry of Public Works, and have leaked information from their sites online.
The groups have stated that they are also targeting Sweden to express solidarity with Svartholm Warg and Assange.

Financial factors
While Sweden and allegedly the US have security reasons for Svartholm Warg's deportation and for withholding information about its details, Cambodia's role in the crackdown could be more financial than legal.

Cambodia's decision to deport Svartholm Warg notably coincided with Sweden's signing of a 400 million Swedish kronor (US$60.6 million) development aid agreement with Cambodia last week. Swedish officials denied a connection between the events, with Kristina Kuhnel, head of Sweden's development cooperation in Cambodia, stating that the aid package was decided upon in March and only signed now due to delay on Cambodia's side.

This would not be the first example of Cambodia receiving cash in return for deportations. Immediately after Cambodia agreed to deport 20 Uyghur asylum seekers to China in April 2010, China pledged Cambodia more than US$1.2 billion in aid and a few weeks later pledged an additional US$14 million to replace US military aid suspended in protest against the deportations.

Money may also help to explain why Cambodia shelters many foreign fugitives from the law, including known sex offenders and pedophiles, but chooses to deport men like Svartholm Warg.

Cambodia dragged its feet for years before recently yielding to Russia's request to deport notorious alleged pedophile Alexander Trofimov, a wealthy investor in Cambodia. Trofimov had previously received a Cambodian royal pardon that allowed him to remain free in the country.

In June, Cambodia finally sent Trofimov to South Korea, where Russian authorities escorted him onto a Russia-bound plane. But many details behind the decision to finally deport Trofimov remain unclear.

Svartholm Warg's arrest and deportation has underlined Cambodia's opaque approach to international transfers of individuals, which often serves the interests of pursuing and cooperating governments without ensuring due process for the individuals.

With evasiveness reminiscent of the July transfer of French architect Patrick Devillers from Cambodia to China in relation to the case of Gu Kailai and the death in China of UK businessman Neil Heywood, Cambodian authorities offered few details about Svartholm Warg's arrest before he left Cambodia.

In both cases, Cambodia's decision against formal extradition made secrecy easier. Cambodia often chooses options other than extradition because it requires an involved legal process, including the wanted person's option to appeal against the decision in court, said executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, Ou Virak.

Though the details remain murky, Devillers officially ended up going to China of his own free will to provide information in the Heywood murder case. He has since returned to Cambodia. With Svartholm Warg, the Cambodian government opted for deportation, saying that his visa had expired on the day of his arrest.

Blurred legal lines
Cambodian and Swedish authorities blurred the lines between deportation and extradition to limit Svartholm Warg's legal options, said Cambodian lawyer and Cambodian Defenders Project executive director Sok Sam Oeun.

The deportation process did not allow Svartholm Warg legal counsel. Authorities also failed to inform him that under deportation, as opposed to extradition, he could choose where to go upon leaving Cambodia, Sam Oeun said.

Sam Oeun became personally involved in the case when he and Femerstrand went to the Swedish embassy to investigate Svartholm Warg's detention and were given a non-response by the Swedish ambassador.

"If it's deportation, he should be able to go anywhere," Sam Oeun said just before Svartholm Warg was escorted from Cambodia. "He doesn't want to go to Sweden."

As with Russian authorities' escort of Trofimov onto a Russia-bound plane to South Korea, it is unclear whether it was legal for Swedish authorities to force Svartholm Warg onto the waiting plane in Bangkok. Sweden legally would have had to receive Thailand's permission for the transfer, according to Cambridge University professor of international law Markus Gehring.

Given the obfuscation that surrounds such deportations, it was not surprising that Swedish police and Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs staff were unable to say whether these negotiations had occurred.

Justine Drennan is a journalist currently living in Phnom Penh. She can be reached at jkdrennan@gmail.com.

(Copyright 2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)


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