Nick Clegg could face legal action following remarks made about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Speaking on LBC on Thursday, the deputy prime minister commented on Assange's long stay at the Ecuadorian embassy in London and the £10 million cost of policing the building - comments Assange believes could be defamatory.
Assange has been at the embassy since June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden where he faces questions over claims of sexual assaults, which he denies.
Clegg said: "Am I frustrated that this goes on and on like this? Am I frustrated that taxpayers are picking up the tab around the Ecuadorian embassy? Yes, sure. Imagine the frustration of the Swedish government - hardly an illiberal rogue state."
Clegg continued: "This is a country of impeccable democratic credentials with a well-respected judicial system who say he should go to Sweden to face very serious allegations and charges of rape, which he denies. Of course, the right thing to do is for him to do that and face justice in a country where due process is well-established."
Assange has taken exception to use of the word "charges". He said: "I have instructed my legal team to examine whether the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, should be sued for defamation. Nick Clegg falsely stated to the media yesterday, in comments that were widely reported, that I had been "charged" with an offence. I have not been charged or indicted, in this country or in Sweden as the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom clearly states (on its website, no less).
He added: "This is partly why so many people are outraged, including the 59 legal rights groups who have complained to the United Nations in the last six months alone. The UK Parliament changed its law last year to make extradition without charge unlawful. It is time Clegg got with the programme. The programme is called the Magna Carta. It states that detaining people without charge is wrong. Perhaps he would like to read it before engaging in another attempt at government."
A spokesman for the Deputy Prime Minister said: "Julian Assange is a skilled self-publicist who talks a good game. We'll see if he follows up on his threats with actual action. If he and his lawyers were really committed to justice, they would go to Sweden to face the very serious allegations being made there."
Assange responded: "I congratulate Nick Clegg's office for doing the right thing this time around and no longer falsely stating that I have been charged with a crime. Perhaps the libel courts will take this back-pedalling into account. Sadly, it won't help him keep any of his 115 rooms in Chevening House, come May."