A British private surveillance company has denied that it had bugged the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where whistleblowing website WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has taken refuge for the past one year.
In a statement on Thursday, the Surveillance Group’s CEO Timothy Young rejected Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino’s allegations as “completely untrue”.
“The Surveillance Group do not and have never been engaged in any activities of this nature, We have not been contacted by any member of the Ecuadorean government and our first notification about this incident was via the press this morning” Young said.
Patino had said a hidden microphone was found in his country’s embassy in London during his visit to the UK last month. The purpose of the hidden device was to listen to the conversations of Ecuador’s UK ambassador Ana Alban in her office, Patino claimed.
Assange, whose organisation leaked a vast trove of diplomatic cables and Iraq and Afghanistan war logs a few years ago, fled to the embassy fearing extradition to Sweden where he is wanted in connection with a sexual assault case.
Patino described the Surveillance Group as “one of the biggest private investigation and undercover surveillance companies in the UK”.
The topic of covert state surveillance has been at the top of the global news agenda since a series of leaks last month by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden about secret US and British espionage programmes.
Assange’s WikiLeaks is trying to assist Snowden, who is believed to be stranded at Moscow airport and have sought asylum in a variety of countries, including Ecuador. However, many of the countries have refused asylum to the US whistleblower.
Meanwhile, a diplomatic row has erupted after leaders from Latin American countries expressed outrage over diversion of a flight carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales to Austria on the suspicion that Snowden was on board the plane.
Morales’ plane was allowed to fly after it was found that Snowden was not on the plane, which was forced to land after France refused to allow the flight to use its airspace. France on Thursday apologised for the act.