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British surveillance firm denies bugging Ecuador's embassy

The national flag flies outside Ecuador's embassy in central London June 16, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Helgren
The national flag flies outside Ecuador's embassy in central London June 16, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

LONDON (Reuters) - A British private surveillance company denied on Thursday that it had bugged the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been living for over a year.

Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino made the allegation against the Surveillance Group Ltd in Quito on Wednesday, adding that Ecuador would seek help from the British government to get to the bottom of the matter.

In a statement, the Surveillance Group's CEO Timothy Young rejected Patino's allegation as "completely untrue".

"The Surveillance Group do not and have never been engaged in any activities of this nature," Young said.

"We have not been contacted by any member of the Ecuadorean government and our first notification about this incident was via the press this morning," he said.

The Foreign Office in London declined to comment.

Patino described the Surveillance Group as "one of the biggest private investigation and undercover surveillance companies in the United Kingdom".

On its website, the company says it combines "the practices, skills and experience of special forces, police and commercial surveillance to create an entirely new form of surveillance".

It says its clients include British law enforcement agencies, other government bodies and financial institutions, and that it has teams in Europe and Canada.

Services on offer include digital forensics, corporate investigations, professional witness surveillance and intelligence reports, according to the company website.

Patino has said the microphone was found in the office of Ambassador Ana Alban at the time of his visit to the embassy on June 16 to meet with Assange, who has been granted asylum by Ecuador but cannot make his way to that country.

Assange risks arrest if he steps out of the embassy because he has breached his bail terms in Britain. He sought refuge inside the embassy in June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault.

Assange fears that if sent to Sweden he could be extradited from there to the United States to face potential charges over the release of thousands of confidential U.S. documents on WikiLeaks.

The anti-secrecy website described the alleged bugging of the embassy as an example of "imperial arrogance" but did not elaborate.

The topic of covert state surveillance has been at the top of the global news agenda since a series of leaks last month by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden about secret U.S. and British espionage programs.

WikiLeaks is trying to assist Snowden, who is believed to be stranded at an airport in Moscow and seeking asylum in a variety of countries including Ecuador.

(Reporting By Estelle Shirbon and Costas Pitas; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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