Sweden drops rape investigation of WikiLeaks founder Assange

Despite Sweden’s decision to drop the investigation, British police say Mr Assange still faces arrest for jumping bail in 2012 if he leaves Ecuador’s embassy in London.

 WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaks from the balcony of the Ecuadorean embassy in London on February 5, 2016. Sweden's top prosecutor on May 19, 2017. dropped an investigation into a rape claim against Mr Assange after almost seven years. Kirsty Wigglesworth / AP, file
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STOCKHOLM // Sweden’s top prosecutor on Friday dropped an investigation into a rape claim against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after almost seven years.

Prosecutor Marianne Ny said the case was being dropped because there was no possibility of arresting Mr Assange “in the foreseeable future”.

The decision means Mr Assange, who has spent the past five years inside the Ecuadorean embassy in London, no longer faces sex crime allegations in Sweden, although British police said he was still wanted for jumping bail in 2012.

Speaking from the balcony of the embassy, Mr Assange said his seven-year legal ordeal “is not something that I can forgive”.

He said his battle was not over, and “the proper war is just commencing”. Mr Assange, 45, believes the United States wants him extradited and arrested in connection with WikiLeaks’ publication of classified US documents.

He nonetheless called Sweden’s decision to drop the rape investigation “an important victory for me and for the UN human rights system”.

It does not clear Mr Assange’s name, however, and some experts say it puts him into an even more precarious legal situation if the US has – as some suspect – a sealed indictment for his arrest.

Mr Assange took refuge at the embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning about sex-crime allegations from two women. He said he feared Swedish authorities would hand him over to the United States for his role at the helm of WikiLeaks, which has enraged governments around the world by publishing tens of thousands of leaked classified US documents.

Mr Assange said on Friday that his lawyers would contact British officials about resolving his status. He also said he would be “happy” to discuss the case with the US department of justice despite US attorney general Jeff Sessions saying that his arrest was a priority.

“We’ve already begun to step up our efforts and whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail,” Mr Sessions said last month.

The US president Donald Trump had said he would support any decision by the justice department to charge Mr Assange, who contends the United States should recognise his First Amendment rights as a journalist.

It is not known if US officials have asked British police to arrest Mr Assange because of a possible sealed US indictment against him. A justice department spokesman declined to comment on the case on Friday.

WikiLeaks tweeted after the Swedish announcement: “UK refuses to confirm or deny whether it has already received a US extradition warrant for Julian Assange. Focus now moves to UK.”

British prime minister Theresa May said on Friday that “any decision that is taken about UK action in relation to him [Assange] would be an operational matter for the police”.

The allegations of sexual crimes against Mr Assange surfaced after two women accused Assange of sexual misconduct during a visit to Stockholm in 2010.

There were initially two separate allegations of sexual crimes by Mr Assange during a visit to Stockholm in 2010, but one was dropped in 2015 because the statute of limitations ran out. The rape allegation, the more serious claim, remained under investigation. Mr Assange has said the sex was consensual.

Ms Ny, the Swedish prosecutor, said prosecutors had been unable to make a full assessment of the case and were not making a finding on whether Mr Assange was guilty or innocent of the allegations, and the case could be reopened if he returned to Sweden before the statute of limitations expired in 2020.

A lawyer for the woman who alleged she was raped said her client was shocked by the prosecutor’s decision.

Mr Assange and WikiLeaks have repeatedly infuriated US officials with the release of secret documents related to military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and diplomatic relations around the world. WikiLeaks also had a provocative role in the US presidential campaign last year when it published emails written by Hillary Clinton’s campaign officials.

The US soldier Chelsea Manning served seven years in prison for giving classified material to WikiLeaks. She was freed on Wednesday, having had her sentence commuted by former president Barack Obama before he left office.

* Associated Press

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