SYDNEY, June 25 — Australia’s prime minister today welcomed a “delicate” plea deal for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s freedom, saying the case had “dragged on for too long”.

US legal documents showed the 52-year-old Australian citizen struck an agreement for his freedom by pleading guilty to a single count of revealing US national defence information.

Assange was released from prison in London yesterday.

He was seen boarding a flight ahead of a scheduled court appearance in the Northern Mariana Islands, a US territory in the Pacific, on Wednesday morning local time.

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“The government is certainly aware that Australian citizen Mr Julian Assange has legal proceedings scheduled in the United States,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told parliament.

“While this is a welcome development, we recognise that these proceedings are crucial and they’re delicate.”

Australia has been providing consular assistance to Assange, he said.

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Albanese said he had been clear about his position on Assange’s case both as opposition leader and since becoming prime minister in 2022.

“Regardless of the views that people have about Mr Assange’s activities, the case has dragged on for too long, there is nothing to be gained by his continued incarceration and we want him brought home to Australia,” he said.

“We have engaged and advocated Australia’s interests, using all appropriate channels, to support a positive outcome,” Albanese added.

“I will have more to say when these legal proceedings have concluded, which I hope will be very soon.”

Assange was accused of publishing some 700,000 confidential documents related to US military and diplomatic activities, starting in 2010.

He had been detained in London’s high-security Belmarsh prison since April 2019.

The Australian was arrested after spending seven years holed up in Ecuador’s London embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faced accusations of sexual assault that were eventually dropped.

Under the plea deal, he is expected to be sentenced to 62 months in prison, with credit for the five years and two months he has served in prison in Britain.

That would allow a return to his native Australia. — AFP