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WikiLeaks founder Assange's bail guarantors ordered to pay

By Isla Binnie

LONDON (Reuters) - Nine people who put up bail for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, including two members of the British aristocracy and a Nobel Prize winner, were ordered to pay 93,000 pounds ($150,000) on Monday after Assange took refuge in Ecuador's embassy.

The guarantors - who include Nobel prize-winning biologist John Sulston - are liable for part of the 140,000 pound bail fee they pledged, Westminster Magistrate's Court ruled.

They were given until November 6 to pay up.

Assange, whose whistleblowing website angered the United States by releasing thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables, was arrested in December 2010 on an extradition warrant from Sweden where he is wanted for questioning over allegations of rape and sexual assault made by two women.

He denies wrongdoing and says he fears that if he is extradited to Sweden he could be transferred to the United States where he could face criminal charges punishable by death.

The 41-year-old Australian broke the conditions of his bail when he entered the Ecuadorean embassy in June shortly after running out of legal options to avoid being sent to Sweden. He was later granted diplomatic asylum by Ecuador.

"Having seen and heard from the sureties, I cannot avoid taking some account of their integrity," Judge Howard Riddle said of the nine guarantors.

"I accept that they trusted Mr Assange to surrender himself as required. I accept that they followed the proceedings and made necessary arrangements to remain in contact with him," he said.

"However, they failed in their basic duty, to ensure his surrender. They must have understood the risk and the concerns of the courts.

"Both this court and the High Court assessed that there were substantial grounds to believe the defendant would abscond, and that the risk could only be met by stringent conditions including the sureties."

Vaughan Smith - one of the nine, who housed Assange for 13 months after his arrest - argued for the entire group in court last week. He had said it should pay no money at all because the case had dragged on for much longer than expected and Assange had not warned the group's members before entering the embassy.

Each guarantor must now pay between 3,500 and 15,000 pounds, having originally pledged between 5,000 and 20,000 pounds.

Three submitted details of their financial means, which were taken into consideration by the court.

"Nobody wants to lose 12,000 pounds and though my family may now live less comfortably, at least we will be able to live with ourselves," Smith told Reuters afterwards.

"We believe that we have done the right thing and have no regrets for having supported Julian Assange."

(Additional reporting by Stephen Eisenhammer; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

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