LONDON — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Wednesday lost his appeal against extradition to Sweden to answer sex crime allegations but may now take his protracted fight to Britain's highest court.
British High Court Judges John Thomas and Duncan Ousely rejected Assange's claims that it was unfair and unlawful to send him to Scandinavia to be questioned over the alleged rape of one woman and the molestation of another in Stockholm last year.
The 40-year-old has denied wrongdoing and insists the case is politically motivated by those opposed to the work of his secret-spilling organization.
After the judgment, Assange's lawyer Mark Summers said he could not say whether his client planned to attempt an appeal to Britain's Supreme Court. His legal team has 14 days to decide whether it plan to keep fighting the extradition.
Wearing a gray suit, Assange flipped through pile of documents and shook hands with supporters as he appeared in court to hear the verdict.
The court said that, for the time being at least, Assange would remain held on bail, under virtual house arrest at a supporter's lavish country estate.
In their ruling, the appeals judges rejected arguments put forward by Assange's legal team — that said the decision by Swedish prosecutors to seek Assange's extradition was disproportionate.
"In any event, this is self evidently not a case relating to a trivial offense, but to serious sexual offenses," the judges said.
Assange would not take questions as he left the courtroom, but supporters indicated that his prospects appeared bleak.
"It's not good news," said Vaughan Smith, the owner of the country mansion where Assange has been residing while he fights extradition.
Assange has said the sexual encounters were consensual, and his lawyer Ben Emmerson had previously argued that the allegations would not be considered crimes in England — an argument dismissed by the appeals judges.
"There can be no doubt that if what Mr. Assange had done had been done in England and Wales, he would have been charged," the ruling said.
The judges said that apparent inconsistencies in some of the allegations against Assange should not affect his extradition to face questioning — even though those issues could be valid in any future trial.
The judges cited as one example the fact that one woman who claimed Assange had unprotected sex with her against her will while she was asleep had later said she might have been partially awake.
"These are matters of evidence which would be highly relevant at trial," the judges said in their ruling. But "it is not for this court to assess whether the allegations may fail."
Inside Britain's High Court, WikiLeaks supporters packed inside a public gallery alongside friends of Assange.
The appeals judges confirmed that any attempt to turn to the Supreme Court would be decided at a future hearing but did not set a date for Assange and his lawyers to return to court.
Karen Todner, a prominent British extradition lawyer not involved in the case, said that the appeals court must grant Assange permission to lodge a further appeal, a process that typically takes about two or three weeks.
If the appeals court rules that his extradition does raise issues of legal significance, Assange could then take his case to Britain's Supreme Court, Todner said. But if it doesn't, "then that's it."
Todner also said the WikiLeaks front man could try to appeal to European Court of Human Rights as a last resort — although she said such a maneuver would be unlikely to succeed.