REVEALED: Chief magistrate in Assange case received financial benefits from secretive partner organisations of UK Foreign Office

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by Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis, Daily Maverick:

The senior judge overseeing the extradition proceedings of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange received financial benefits from two partner organisations of the British Foreign Office before her appointment, it can be revealed.

It can further be revealed that Lady Emma Arbuthnot was appointed Chief Magistrate in Westminster on the advice of a Conservative government minister with whom she had attended a secretive meeting organised by one of these Foreign Office partner organisations two years before.

Liz Truss, then Justice Secretary, “advised” the Queen to appoint Lady Arbuthnot in October 2016. Two years before, Truss — who is now Trade Secretary — and Lady Arbuthnot both attended an off-the-record two-day meeting in Bilbao, Spain.

The expenses were covered by an organisation called Tertulias, chaired by Lady Arbuthnot’s husband — Lord Arbuthnot of Edrom, a former Conservative defence minister with extensive links to the British military and intelligence community exposed by WikiLeaks.

Tertulias, an annual forum held for political and corporate leaders in the UK and Spain, is regarded by the UK Foreign Office as one of its “partnerships”. The 2014 event in Bilbao was attended by David Lidington, the Minister for Europe, while the Foreign Office has in the past funded Lord Arbuthnot’s attendance at the forum.

The Foreign Office has long taken a strong anti-Assange position, rejecting UN findings in his favour, refusing to recognise the political asylum given to him by Ecuador, and even labelling Assange a “miserable little worm”.

Lady Arbuthnot also benefited financially from another trip with her husband in 2014, this time to Istanbul for the British-Turkish Tatlidil, a forum established by the UK and Turkish governments for “high level” individuals involved in politics and business.

Both Tertulias and Tatlidil are secretive gatherings about which little is known and are not obviously connected — but Declassified has discovered that the UK address of the two organisations has been the same.

Lady Arbuthnot personally presided over Assange’s case as judge from late 2017 until mid-2019, delivering two controversial rulings. Although she is no longer personally hearing the Assange extradition proceedings, she remains responsible for supporting and guiding the junior judges in her jurisdiction. Lady Arbuthnot has refused to declare any conflicts of interest in the case.

The new revelations follow previous investigations by Declassified showing that Lady Arbuthnot received gifts and hospitality in relation to her husband from a military and cybersecurity company exposed by WikiLeaks. Declassified also revealed that the Arbuthnots’ son is linked to an anti-data leak company created by the UK intelligence establishment and staffed by officials recruited from US intelligence agencies behind that country’s prosecution of the WikiLeaks founder.

Lady and Lord Arbuthnot attend the Queen’s garden party at Buckingham Palace in May 2017. Lady Arbuthnot was appointed Chief Magistrate in Westminster by the Queen eight months before, in September 2016, on the advice of Liz Truss, who had attended the 2014 Tertulias event with Lady Arbuthnot. (Photo: Instagram)

The Arbuthnots and Liz Truss

Tertulias’ annual meetings between the UK and Spain have been held since 1989 but the organisation has no public presence and provides no record of events. Declassified found that its current president is Jose de Areilza, a Spanish law professor who is also a board member of the Spanish Ministry of Defence.

Lord Arbuthnot records that he became the unpaid chair of Tertulias in 2012, at which time he was also chair of parliament’s Defence Committee. Arbuthnot was then also a member of the Joint Committee on National Security Strategy and chair of Conservative Friends of Israel.

In October 2014, Liz Truss, who was then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), attended the Tertulias meeting in Bilbao, alongside the Arbuthnots, Lidington and at least four other British MPs.

Lord and Lady Arbuthnot spent two days at the event and received expenses worth £1,488.20 from Tertulias. Although having attended the annual event regularly since 2000, this was the first time Lord Arbuthnot recorded in his parliamentary register of interests the attendance of his wife.
At the time Lady Arbuthnot was deputy senior district judge. The reason for her attending a meeting described by Lord Arbuthnot as “bringing MPs, business people, academics and artists together to discuss topical issues” is not clear.

Liz Truss was in Bilbao for three days and accrued expenses of £1,235.48 paid by Tertulias. Her flight cost £825.48, suggesting she was flown first class. By contrast, Nick Boles MP charged £178.98 for his flight. The funders of Tertulias and Tatlidil are not known.

The trip to Bilbao was one of only three Truss has accepted from third parties since becoming an MP in 2010. She also joined a group of Conservative MPs on a trip to Berlin in 2011 and attended in 2019 the annual forum of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a highly secretive meeting organised by the most influential neoconservative think tank in Washington populated by senior US military and intelligence officials.

Declassified recently revealed how the AEI, which has a strongly anti-Assange position, has been courting British ministers for years.

Read More @ DailyMaverick.co.za

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