WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been named by mistake in a US court document, leading to suggestions he may have been charged in secret.
The Australian’s name appeared twice in a court filing from a prosecutor in Virginia in a case involving a man accused of coercing a minor for sex.
The document said charges “would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested… and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition”.
It added that “due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged”.
The US justice department confirmed the filing was made in error, while WikiLeaks said it was the result of a “cut and paste” mistake.
The Washington Post reported that charges have been drawn up for Mr Assange but it is not clear on what grounds.
The ongoing investigation into ties between Russia and the 2016 presidential campaign has suggested that WikiLeaks was used by Russian intelligence to distribute hacked material.
Mr Assange’s lawyer Barry Pollack said, “The news that criminal charges have apparently been filed against Mr Assange is even more troubling than the haphazard manner in which that information has been revealed.
“The government bringing criminal charges against someone for publishing truthful information is a dangerous path for a democracy to take.”
Terrorism expert Seamus Hughes, from George Washington University in Washington DC, was first to discover Mr Assange’s name in the court document.
Normally, records should not be filed to any US court under seal, but sensitive information should be redacted. To file under seal, prosecutors must seek court permission.
Rules about what can be filed under seal vary by state. In Virginia, the information under seal usually relates to “trade secrets, privileged, or confidential commercial or financial information”.
Mr Assange has been living at the Ecuadorian embassy in London for more than six years after being granted asylum when he tried to avoid extradition to Sweden.
Although his time at the embassy began well, Mr Assange has since claimed he lives in an “inhuman situation” – an allegation thrown out by Ecuador.