Julian Assange: Sweden reopens rape allegation investigation

Prosecutors set up extradition battle with US for WikiLeaks founder, who is in prison in UK

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested in London last month after Ecuador abruptly withdrew its protection. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested in London last month after Ecuador abruptly withdrew its protection. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

 

Sweden is to reopen its investigation into a rape allegation against Julian Assange, setting up an extradition battle with the US for the WikiLeaks founder who is in prison in the UK.

Swedish prosecutors said on Monday that the new circumstances following Assange’s arrest in Britain last month meant they should restart their probe into the alleged 2010 assault.

Assange, who earlier this month was jailed for 50 weeks by a London court for jumping bail in 2012 to avoid questioning in Sweden, is already fighting extradition to the US.

Swedish prosecutors stopped their rape investigation in 2017, citing their inability to pursue the case while Assange was holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London. But they have re-evaluated the case following a request by the lawyer of his alleged victim. Prosecutors have until 2020 to restart their probe under Sweden’s statute of limitations.

Eva-Maria Persson, deputy director of public prosecutions, said on Monday that she was aware of the US extradition request: “In a competitive situation between a Swedish European arrest warrant and an American extradition request, it is for the British authorities to decide on the priority order. The outcome of this process cannot be foreseen.”

She added that the freezing of the investigation in 2017 was not down to the strength of the evidence. Swedish courts had found there was “probable cause” to suspect Assange over the alleged rape.

‘Political pressure’

Assange has previously denied the charges. On Monday, Kristinn Hrafnsson, editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, said the case had been mishandled throughout and that there had been “political pressure” for Sweden to reopen it. “This investigation has been dropped before and its reopening will give Julian a chance to clear his name,” he added.

Ms Persson said that Swedish prosecutors should try to conduct a new interview with Assange over the case and that they would look to issue a new European arrest warrant to extradite the 47-year-old Australian to Sweden after he had served his sentence in the UK.

Per Samuelsson, Assange’s lawyer in Sweden, said he was “very surprised” that prosecutors had decided to reopen their probe and called it “a completely crazy decision”. He added: “We are talking about events that took place 10 years ago and about a person who may be extradited to the US.” Mr Samulesson has previously said that he expected the US extradition request to take precedent over Sweden’s.

If both the US and Sweden file formal extradition requests, it will be up to Sajid Javid, UK home secretary, to decide which to give precedence to, taking into account the seriousness of the alleged crimes and the dates of the requests.

Assange is next due to appear via video link from prison at Westminster magistrates’ court on May 30th for a routine hearing connected to the US case. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019