Swedish prosecutors drop rape probe against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was defiant after Swedish prosecutors dropped an investigation into an allegation of rape. The move brings to an end a seven-year legal standoff, but UK police may still arrest him.
Julian Assange addressed reporters from the balcony of the Ecuadoran embassy Friday after Sweden dropped its investigation into rape allegations. The 45-year-old has been holed up in the embassy in London since 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden. He didn't say when he would be leaving the embassy, instead using his speech to heavily criticize extradition laws in the European Union.
"Extradition without charge is not something that we expect from the rule of law in the United Kingdom," Assange said.
"To some extent the United Kingdom has been exploited by the process it entered into with the European Union without charge or any consideration as to the facts," he added.
Assange told reporters that his legal staff were in contact with British authorities to try to establish whether an extradition order to the United States was in place.
"Let us understand that, while today was an important victory and an informant vindication, the road is far from over. The war, the proper war, is just commencing," he said. "The UK has said it will arrest me regardless."
He promised that Wikileaks would keep publishing, mentioning a new release of CIA files earlier Friday.
Assange ended his speech by saying the release of alleged source Chelsea Manning was of far greater importance.
He did not take any questions.
Earlier in the day, Sweden's chief prosecutor, Marianne Ny, said the investigation would not proceed because "there's no possibility of arresting Assange in the foreseeable future."
Assange, who maintains that he is innocent, has said he feared Swedish authorities would extradite him to the United States, where he said he could face the death penalty for WikiLeaks' publication of thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents.
In documents filed to the Stockholm District Court, Ny said legal obstacles had prevented the case from moving forward. "We are not making a statement about his guilt," she stressed, adding that the investigation could be reopened if Assange came to Sweden before the statute of limitations runs out in 2020.
Friday was the deadline for prosecutors to renew or lift the warrant for Assange's arrest.
UK arrest warrant still valid
Though Friday's announcement means that Assange is no longer under any investigation in Sweden, there is no guarantee he will be able to walk free.
British police said Assange was still wanted in Britain for jumping bail in 2012 and that they would be obliged to arrest him "should he leave the embassy." Breaching bail is punishable by up to one year in prison.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said that any action concerning Assange were he to leave the embassy would be an operational matter for the police. Asked if she would support Britain extraditing him to the US, the prime minister replied: "We look at extradition requests when we receive them on a case by case basis."
WikiLeaks said on Twitter that the ball was now in the UK's court. "UK refuses to confirm or deny whether it has already received a US extradition warrant for Julian Assange. Focus now moves to UK."
Some legal experts have said Sweden's action makes Assange's position more precarious because Britain had previously been bound to give priority to Sweden's extradition request over any from the United States. Lawyer David Allen Green, who has followed the case, tweeted: "Once outside embassy, Assange more at risk from any US extradition attempt than if he had gone to Sweden."
Meanwhile, Ecuadoran Foreign Minister Guillaume Long urged Britain to "grant safe passage" out of the country to Assange.
'My name was slandered'
Assange's lawyer, Per E Samuelsson, told Swedish Radio that the decision was "a total victory" for his client. But Assange later wrote on Twitter that he would "not forgive or forget."
"Detained for seven years without charge ... while my children grew up and my name was slandered," the WikiLeaks founder wrote.
A lawyer for the woman who accused Assange of rape slammed the decision to drop the investigation. "It is a scandal that a suspected rapist can escape justice and thereby avoid the courts," Lawyer Elisabeth Fritz said in a statement. "My client is shocked and no decision to (end the case) can make her change that Assange exposed her to rape."
Assange, an Australian national, was questioned in November in the presence of a Swedish prosecutor. He has repeatedly reiterated his innocence and said the sex was consensual.