by Tom Coburg Canary Dec 3, 2018
A former consul and first secretary at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London has spoken out against a “fake story” from the Guardian. Speaking to The Canary, Fidel Narváez insisted that the claim that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort met with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is entirely false.
The Canary has also seen a copy of correspondence to the Guardian from the same diplomat. In these, he makes a formal complaint, accusing the newspaper of fabricating an earlier story about a Russian plot to smuggle Assange to Russia.
The Manafort claim
Narváez was initially consul and then first secretary at the Ecuadorian Embassy from 2010 to July 2018. He has now told The Canary that, to his knowledge, Manafort made no visits at any time during that period. He insisted:
It is impossible for any visitor to enter the embassy without going through very strict protocols and leaving a clear record: obtaining written approval from the ambassador, registering with security personnel, and leaving a copy of ID. The embassy is the most surveilled on Earth; not only are there cameras positioned on neighbouring buildings recording every visitor, but inside the building every movement is recorded with CCTV cameras, 24/7. In fact, security personnel have always spied on Julian and his visitors. It is simply not possible that Manafort visited the embassy.
In response, the Guardian told The Canary:
This story relied on a number of sources. We put these allegations to both Paul Manafort and Julian Assange’s representatives prior to publication. Neither responded to deny the visits taking place. We have since updated the story to reflect their denials.
And that’s not the only disputed Guardian piece…
There is another Guardian story by the same authors that Narváez also disputes.
On 21 September 2018, the Guardian claimed there was a plan to smuggle Assange from the Ecuadorian Embassy via a diplomatic vehicle, and from there to Russia. But according to the article, the plan was called off after UK authorities refused to recognise that Assange was due diplomatic protection. The Guardian also referred to an alternative plan that would have seen Assange transported to Ecuador.
But in a letter seen by The Canary and dated 9 October, Narváez told the Guardian he denies claims made about him in that article. And that includes the claim he was a ‘point of contact’ with Russia, which he regards as defamatory.
Moreover, Narváez is demanding the Guardian issue a public apology, considering in particular:
In response, the Guardian told The Canary that “The article in question included a denial by Fidel Narváez”. The Guardian has refused to amend the article. It also stands by its claims, even though Narváez’s complaint is still under investigation.
The ‘documents’ behind the Guardian‘s defence
In its reply to Narváez’s letter of complaint, the Guardian referred to documents, dated December 2017 and disclosed on 17 October 2018, which it says back up its claim. It said:
further information relevant to the subject of the article has come to light from documents made available in Ecuador.
But according to the Intercept‘s Glenn Greenwald:
There are all sorts of internecine battles being waged inside the Ecuadorian Government that provide motive to feed false claims about Assange to the Guardian. Senain, the Ecuadorian intelligence service that the Guardian says showed it the incriminating report, has been furious with Assange for years, ever since WikiLeaks published files relating to the agency’s hacking and malware efforts.
The documents the Guardian referred to concerned the appointments of Assange as a diplomat in London and in Moscow. However, The Canary understands that any arrangements to appoint Assange as a diplomat in Russia were undertaken unilaterally by Ecuador, without informing Assange, who never considered Moscow as a possible destination.
In his letter to the Guardian, Narváez said:
Ecuador, in common with other sovereign states, is free to appoint whom they choose as a diplomat to any posting. Ecuador’s wish for Julian Assange to be able to leave the Embassy legitimately, with the agreement of the UK government and without risk to himself is a very long way from a “plot to smuggle” him out in collusion with a third country.
And to dispel any further doubts, Narváez told The Canary:
Ecuador has never even considered the possibility of moving Assange out of the embassy without the consent of the UK. That is why the Guardian’s article is completely false.
It doesn’t stop there. Edward Snowden also comes into the picture.
The Guardian also claimed that Narváez arranged safe passage documents for NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, to enable him to travel from Hong Kong to Russia.
decisive action of your consul in London, Fidel Narvaez, guaranteed my rights would be protected upon departing Hong Kong.
Correa reportedly said the document issued to Snowden was unauthorised.
But in a more recent letter to the Guardian, seen by The Canary, Narváez confirms that he did organise a document of safe passage but that this is misrepresented in the article in order to link him to Russia. He explained:
The document I issued for Edward Snowden was to help him get to Ecuador, not to Moscow. I did not help him to get to Russia. In fact, the opposite is true. I tried to help him leave Russia. Russia was not his destination and it played no part in his attempt to get to South America.
A hostile environment of reputation-damaging ‘fake stories’
Narváez is accusing the Guardian of multiple fabrications. This is made worse by the fact that the articles in question were subsequently reproduced by numerous media outlets.
Narváez told The Canary:
Luke Harding and Dan Collyns, the authors of the Manafort fake story, are the same ones who wrote the Russia smuggling plot fake story, and their ‘sources’ are most probably the same. I find it incredible that the Guardian allows these people to repeatedly damage the paper’s credibility and reputation.
Indeed, we could see those articles as pivotal in the current hostile environment against Assange; the purpose of which is presumably to prepare the way for the extradition of Assange to the US. Meanwhile, the Mueller inquiry into alleged links between US president Donald Trump and Russia – and Assange – is gaining headlines on an almost daily basis. And there is evidence that Assange has been secretly indicted and that an extradition request is imminent.
In such an environment, media outlets must provide hard evidence to substantiate allegations, and not simply fall back on anonymous ‘sources’ (usually code for spooks). The people these allegations target deserve better, and so do readers.