This Monday, Feb. 7, 2011 file photo shows WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange leaving Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in London. - AP Photo

LONDON: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange lashed out at a British publisher for releasing drafts of a long-awaited memoir without his approval Thursday, saying he did not author the book or get the opportunity to check it.

British publisher Canongate announced that the book, billed as an “unauthorized autobiography,” will go on sale in stores and online Thursday. Canongate – which paid the 40-year-old Assange for the rights to the memoir last year – said that Assange began working with a ghostwriter on the book, but later backed out and tried to cancel his contract.

The publisher said that since he had not repaid his advance, it had decided to publish the first draft that the WikiLeaks founder delivered to the publisher in March.

But in a statement released to The Associated Press, Assange disputed that account, accusing the publisher of “profiteering from an unfinished and erroneous draft.”

“The events surrounding its unauthorised publication by Canongate are not about freedom of information – they are about old-fashioned opportunism and duplicity – screwing people over to make a buck,” Assange said in the statement.

According to Assange, he did not give a copy of the 70,000-word manuscript, written by Andrew O’Hagan, to Canongate. Instead, it was handed over by O’Hagan’s researcher “for viewing purposes only” and was never intended for publication, he said.

“This draft was a work in progress. It is entirely uncorrected or fact-checked by me,” Assange said.

Although Assange said in the beginning he hoped his memoirs would be “one of the unifying documents of our generation,” he later became doubtful and said that with the lawsuits against him he couldn’t focus on writing.

In December, he said that he didn’t want to write a book, but had been forced into the deal to pay his legal bills and keep WikiLeaks afloat. He said the deal would bring in $500,000 from Canongate and $800,000 from Knopf.

Assange said that in May he agreed with Canongate to draw up a new contract and restructure the book, but the publisher later ignored those discussions and kept its decision to publish the first draft a secret from him.

Canongate sold rights to more than 30 publishers around the world, including Alfred A. Knopf in the US

Knopf, a division of Random House, said Wednesday that it had canceled its contract to publish the book.

“The author did not complete his work on the manuscript or deliver a book to us in accordance with our agreement,” spokesman Paul Bogaards said in a statement. “We will not be moving forward with our publication.”

WikiLeaks and its silver-haired front man shot to worldwide prominence with a series of spectacular leaks of secret US material, including the publication of about 250,000 classified State Department cables.

Assange has gained global fame as the face of WikiLeaks, but also has fallen out with many former allies, and with media partners, which had helped edit and publish the site’s trove of secret documents.

Canongate said the book traces Assange’s life from his Australian childhood through his time as a teenage computer hacker to the founding of the secret-spilling website.

It said the book is, “like its author, passionate, provocative and opinionated.”

Canongate publishing director Nick Davies said the WikiLeaks chief should be pleased with the result.

“It’s the good and the bad of Julian in there, which ultimately does him some favors,” Davies said.

“He has been portrayed as this Bond villain or a character from a Stieg Larsson novel ... but what comes through here is this very human portrait of Julian, warts and all,” he said. “He’s a warmer character than a lot of people will be expecting.”

The Independent newspaper, which will run extracts from the book starting Thursday, said the memoir also deals with events in Sweden in 2010 that led to allegations of rape and sexual molestation against Assange by two women.

Assange is out on bail and living at a supporter’s mansion in eastern England as he awaits a judge’s decision on whether he will be extradited to Sweden to face those allegations. A ruling is expected within weeks.

In addition to its attack on his one-time publishing partners, his statement provides a rare window into Assange’s fraught financial position. In it Assange says that no lawyer would take his case because of lack of money, and hints that the bills – and the strain – are piling up.

“My legal costs are mounting due to politically motivated legal attacks and a financial blockade jeopardises WikiLeaks’ continued operations,” he said.

Updated Sep 22, 2011 06:23am

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