Swedish prosecutor drops rape probe into WikiLeaks' Assange
19 May, 2017, 23:08
Swedish prosecutors have dropped an investigation of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange over a rape allegation, but British police said he would still be arrested if he left the Ecuadorean embassy in London where he has been holed up.
However, reporters have now gathered outside the Knightsbridge embassy in the expectation he could finally leave after four years and 334 days. British police say he is still wanted for jumping bail in 2012.
Lawyer David Allen Green, who has followed the case, tweeted: "Once outside embassy, Assange more at risk from any USA extradition attempt than if he had gone to Sweden".
Sweden has revoked a European Arrest Warrant for Assange, so British police are no longer seeking him for extradition.
After the news was announced, Wikileaks tweeted that the "focus now moves to the UK", saying the United Kingdom had "refused to confirm or deny whether it has already received a USA extradition warrant for Julian Assange".
"The decision to discontinue the preliminary investigation is not because we have been able to make a full assessment of the evidence in this case, but because we did not see any possibilities to advance the investigation forward", Public Prosecution Director Marianne Ny said in a televised press conference.
Director of Public Prosecution Marianne Ny announced in a statement that she "has made a decision to discontinue the investigation regarding suspected rape" by Assange.
The UN had called on Swedish and British authorities to free Mr Assange from "arbitrary detention" in a report released past year, with the United Kingdom failing to overturn the findings on appeal.
Assange requests, and is later granted political asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
The police statement said Assange was previously wanted for "an extremely serious offence" in Sweden and the police presence around the embassy had "reflected the serious nature of that crime".
A lawyer for the woman who alleges she was raped by Julian Assange says "it is a scandal that a suspected rapist can avoid the judicial system and thus avoid a trial in court".
Swedish officials withdrew a Europe-wide arrest warrant for Assange after coming to the conclusion that it would be impossible to bring him to Sweden, prosecutor Ny said.
She said the case could be reopened if Assange returns to Sweden before the statute of limitations expires in 2020. "My assessment is the transfer can not be carried out in a foreseeable future", Ms Ny told reporters.
The Australian activist sought asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy while on bail in 2012, over fears the Swedish investigation would result in him being extradited to the USA over leaked military documents and diplomatic cables.
Mr Assange said the United Kingdom had refused to confirm or deny whether there is a warrant from the US for his extradition, insisting he was happy to talk to the US Justice Department.
Both U.S. and British officials have declined to comment on whether there is a warrant for Assange's arrest.
British police kept up a round-the-clock guard outside the embassy until December 2015, when the operation was scaled back partly because of the costs, which had exceeded 11 million pounds (over $17.5 million at the time). It is not clear if that may change now that the investigation has been dropped.
Britain's Crown Prosecution Service said that breach of bail is punishable by up to a year in prison or a fine.
"In view of the fact that all prospects of pursuing the investigation under present circumstances are exhausted, it appears that it is no longer proportionate to maintain the arrest of Julian Assange in his absence", she added.