Ecuadoran President Lenin Moreno hinted this week that gears are in motion to end Julian Assange’s more than five-year stay at the South American country’s embassy in London, prompting speculation that he could face extradition to the US, where he faces criminal charges.

“There is a path for Mr Assange to take the decision to exit into near freedom,” Moreno was quoted by Reuters as saying in a radio interview.

While Moreno says Britain has assured Ecuador that Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, will not face extradition if he leaves the embassy, he will face arrest by UK authorities and upwards of six months in prison for skipping bail.

“I do not like the presence of Mr Assange in the Ecuadoran Embassy, but we have been respectful of his human rights and with that respect in mind we think that six years is too long for someone to remain nearly incarcerated in an embassy,” Moreno said.

For his part, Assange contends that the UK will extradite him to the US.

Federal criminal charges against Assange have been filed secretly in the US and were accidentally leaked in a court filing for an unrelated case several weeks ago.

WikiLeaks has published thousands of classified US government documents, prompting US law-enforcement authorities to consider possible criminal charges for Assange, despite the fact that publishing leaked government documents is not a crime.