Sweden drops rape investigation against Julian Assange
WikiLeaks founder hails ‘important victory’ from balcony of Ecuadorean embassy
Swedish prosecutors have dropped their rape investigation against Julian Assange after a seven-year legal impasse, citing their inability to pursue the case while the WikiLeaks founder was holed up inside Ecuador’s embassy in London, England.
Marianne Ny, Sweden’s director of public prosecution, announced the decision on Friday, saying “all options” to take the investigation forward “are now exhausted”.
“I do not want to assign blame or responsibility to any particular person to this. The reason for this is that Julian Assange has kept himself away from us for so long,” Ms Ny told reporters at a press conference.
Mr Assange was on bail in the UK in 2012 when he took refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy, after a British court ruled he should be extradited to Sweden to face questioning over the rape allegations.
He argued that, if sent to Sweden, he would subsequently be extradited to the United States, where he was wanted for questioning over the hundreds of thousands of classified US documents that had been published by his organisation WikiLeaks.
His lawyer in Sweden, Per Samuelsson, told Swedish media: “It is a total victory for Julian Assange.”
Mr Samuelsson added: “He is free to leave the embassy whenever he wants.”
But Mr Assange appeared unlikely to leave the embassy immediately, after London’s Metropolitan Police said in a statement it would be “obliged” to execute an arrest warrant for him if he did so.
The arrest warrant was issued in 2012 by British magistrates after Mr Assange breached his bail by seeking asylum at the embassy.
Addressing supporters from the Ecuadorean embassy’s balcony, Mr Assange said his legal team was hoping to “engage in a dialogue” with UK authorities, but declined to take questions about whether he would leave.
“While today was an important victory . . . the proper war is still coming. The UK has said they will arrest me . . . and CIA director Mike Pompeo has said I and all the WikiLeaks staff have no rights,” Mr Assange said.
“The legal conflict with the US and the UK at a formal level still continues.”
Theresa May, the British prime minister, said any decision about what happens to Mr Assange was an “operational matter” for the police. The US department of justice declined to comment on the issue.
The London Metropolitan Police indicated it considered the case a low priority, given Sweden had dropped the most serious charges against Mr Assange.
“The [Met] response reflected the serious nature of [the] crime,” the police said. “Now that the situation has changed and the Swedish authorities have discontinued their investigation into that matter, Mr Assange remains wanted for a much less serious offence. The [Met] will provide a level of resourcing which is proportionate to that offence.”
After Ms Ny announced her decision, Mr Assange posted a picture of himself smiling on Twitter, and he followed it later with a tweet that read: “Detained for 7 years without charge . . . while my children grew up and my name was slandered. I do not forgive or forget .”
One of his lawyers, Melinda Taylor, told the Financial Times that the UK should now let Mr Assange be free. Ms Taylor noted the maximum penalty for breaching bail in the jurisdiction is 12 months.
Because Mr Assange has been inside the Ecuadorean embassy for more than five years, she said “it would be completely disproportionate” for a judge to allow a bail-jumping case to go forward.
Ms Taylor said the Swedish decision would allow Mr Assange to “focus his time and resources on the real issue, which is the ongoing national security case in the US.
“Because of this Swedish investigation, the US hasn’t had to show its case. Now all eyes are on the US. There is more pressure on the US to make its intention clear.”
Despite spending five years in the central London mission, Mr Assange has kept himself at the centre of political controversy, including promoting WikiLeaks’ publication of US Democratic party emails, which damaged the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton last year.
Jeff Sessions, the US attorney general, said in April that arresting Mr Assange was a “priority”.
He added: “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.”
Prosecuting Mr Assange, who has likened his actions to those of journalists, remains fraught with first amendment concerns in the US.
The freedom-of-expression rights guaranteed by that amendment were at the centre of why the Obama administration never brought a case against the WikiLeaks founder, said Matthew Miller, who was spokesman for Eric Holder, Barack Obama’s first attorney general.
The Trump administration may be less sensitive to such issues.
The New York Times reported earlier this week that US president Donald Trump, in a private meeting with former FBI director James Comey, suggested jailing journalists who publish classified material.
Likewise, Joe Lieberman, the former Democratic senator who has emerged as a frontrunner to succeed Mr Comey, suggested in 2010 investigating the New York Times along with Mr Assange.
The accusations against Mr Assange date to August 2010, when the alleged victim filed a complaint several days after she met him at a WikiLeaks conference in Stockholm.
The accuser said he had unprotected sex with her as she slept. Mr Assange has denied the allegations.
Ms Ny defended Sweden’s handling of the affair and said that the investigation could be reopened if Mr Assange visited Sweden before the statute of limitation ends in 2020. – (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017)