Caracas, Venezuela – A Swedish Ace programmer, who was an avid WikiLeaks supporter, was arrested in Ecuador for allegedly extorting the blackmail of the country's president for his job as Julian Assange.
Friends of Ola Bini, however, say that the soft-spoken encryption expert is wrongly attacked for his activism in the name of digital privacy.
On Saturday, prosecutors had announced they would be charged with crimes related to hacking Bini, and he was detained for up to 90 days while collecting evidence.
The 36-year-old was arrested on Thursday in the Ecuadorian capital of Quito as he prepared for a flight to Japan. The arrest took place only a few hours after Assange was expelled from the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Bini had at least 30 electronic storage devices.
His lawyers said they were not notified if he was being charged. Authorities said the plot was hatching with two unidentified Russian hackers in Ecuador. They threatened to publish compromising documents about President Lenin Moreno as he reinforced his position against the Wikileaks founder.
"It is up to the judiciary to decide if it has committed a crime," said Interior Minister María Paula Romo on Friday. "But we can not allow Ecuador to become a center for piracy and espionage, and this time in our history is over."
Romo said Bini had traveled at least twelve times to meet with Assange at the London embassy. She said he was in Venezuela earlier this year, around the same time as he was close to Moreno's ex-mentor, archenemy, Rafael Correa. The former president granted Assange Asylum in 2012 and led a campaign spurred on by WikiLeaks to expose alleged corruption by Moreno, which included the publication of damaged personal documents and photos, including several in which he saw Lobster eating in bed ,
While the extent of Bini's relationship with Assange is unclear, the Swede has defended the freedom of expression of the WikiLeaks founder in an online blog he has maintained over the years.
"Any official who has demanded that Assange be treated as a terrorist or an enemy fighter should seriously consider resigning," he wrote in December 2010.
On the same blog, Bini condemned Amazon for rejecting WikiLeaks from its hosting services and credit card companies and PayPal for refusing to process payments to the mystery-ridden site. He also described working on a panel in January 2011 about WikiLeaks, which was founded by his then employer, the global software company Thoughtworks, including Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers.
Bini, an expert in secure communications, came to Quito in 2013 after being transferred from Chicago to the Thoughtworks Ecuador office, whose guiding principles emphasize social activism. At about the same time, he began to rethink his online habits and eventually gave up his Gmail account for self-hosted emails.
"I'm not a big fan of hosting all of my electronic life under the auspices of US legislation, especially in light of recent events," he wrote in a 2013 article.
Friends and relatives describe Bini as a computer geek who for days felt most comfortable with solving complex programming problems. At the time of his arrest, he traveled to Japan. His former wife, Malin Sandell, told the Associated Press about a two-week jiujitsu training – one of the few hobbies he spent outside of his all-processing work as a code developer.
His Ecuadorian friend said she had not recalled that Bini had ever expressed strong support for Assange, even though the founder of WikiLeaks had deep relationships in Sweden and was an obvious topic of discussion in the small Ecuadorian programming circles.
"Ola is not a hacker if you mean a criminal, but he's trying to understand how computers work and protect people's privacy," said Sofia Ramos in an interview from Brussels.
Ramos worked with Bini on a project at the Center for Digital Autonomy to create a more secure encryption protocol for instant messaging. In its statement on Friday, the center said Computerworld rated it as Sweden's # 6 developer in 2010.
The center is a small non-profit organization in Ecuador and Spain dedicated to private, secure and anonymous communication. His website says it has contributed to well-known projects, including Enigmail and Tor's privacy browser.
In the hours before he left for the airport on Thursday, Bini warned of a "witch-hunt" by the Ecuadorian authorities that surfaced after Assange's compulsory departure from the embassy. Now his friends say the prophecy seems to be true.
"I did not know anyone knew it was a crime," said Vijay Prashad, who runs a Marxist publishing house in India and recently saw Bini in São Paulo, Brazil, a few months ago. "He's the last person ever to be involved in an attempt to overthrow a government."