Julian Assange's publishers will tomorrow publish "the unauthorised first draft" of his autobiography without his consent, months after the WikiLeaks founder withdrew from a million-pound contract for his memoirs.
In a dramatic move, Canongate has defied Assange's wishes and secretly printed thousands of copies of The Unauthorised Autobiography, by Julian Assange, copies of which have been shipped amid strict security to booksellers in preparation for imminent release.
The enormous security operation put in place by the publishers, according to a source, was in order to stop the author blocking publication.
Assange signed a high-profile deal, reportedly worth a total of £930,000, with the Edinburgh-based publisher and the US firm Alfred A Knopf in December. The manuscript was subsequently sold in 35 countries. Assange said at the time he believed the book would become "one of the unifying documents of our generation".
But after seeing a first draft in March, the WikiLeaks founder told his publishers that he no longer intended to write the book, believing it could give ammunition to US prosecutors seeking his extradition over possible espionage charges relating to the WikiLeaks cable release. He formally withdrew from his contract on 7 June.
According to the Independent, which has announced it is to serialise the book, starting tomorrow, the publisher and Assange have been locked in a bitter dispute since then over the contract and his £500,000 advance, which he has not returned. Assange, requiring funds for his legal fight against extradition to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault, is understood to have placed the advance in escrow, meaning that his legal team have first claim on any assets.The Independent said Andrew O'Hagan, Assange's ghostwriter, had asked for his name to be removed from the book.
Neither Assange, O'Hagan, nor his current or former lawyers were available for comment.
"Despite sitting for more than 50 hours of taped interviews and spending many late nights at Ellingham Hall in Norfolk (where he was – and still is – living under house arrest) discussing his life and the work of WikiLeaks with the writer he had enlisted to help him, Julian became increasingly troubled by the thought of publishing an autobiography," Canongate said in a statement.
"After reading the first draft of the book that was delivered to the publishers at the end of March, he declared, 'All memoir is prostitution'.
"On 7 June 2011, Julian told Canongate he wanted to cancel his contract. However, he had already signed his advance over to his lawyers to settle his legal bills and has not repaid the advance owed since. So the contract still stands and Canongate has decided to honour it and publish the autobiography."
According to the Independent, Canongate, faced with a financial crisis, gave Assange two months to work on the manuscript, and, finally, a 12-day window to seek an injunction, which expired on Monday. But, according to a source, the top secrecy around publication had been in order to stop "the author" blocking publication.
In his memoir, the paper says, Assange writes of the Swedish allegations that he had been warned by a source in an unnamed intelligence agency that the US government had been planning to set him up.
He admits to sleeping with the two women, and to being "an unreliable boyfriend".
"The international situation had me in its grip, and although I had spent time with these women, I wasn't paying enough attention to them, or ringing them back, or able to step out of the zone that came down with all these threats and statements against me in America," he states. "One of my mistakes was to expect them to understand this? I wasn't a reliable boyfriend, or even a very courteous sleeping partner, and this began to figure. Unless, of course, the agenda had been rigged from the start."
In a preface to the book, Canongate explains its reasons for defying Assange's wishes. "We disagree with Julian's assessment of the book. We believe it explains both the man and his work, underlining his commitment to the truth. Julian always claimed the book was well written; we agree, and this also encouraged us to make the book available to readers."
The volume, Canongate said, "fulfils … the promise of the original book proposal and is, like its author, passionate, provocative and opinionated".