Sweden drops Assange case, but he's still wanted by London police

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange had skipped bail in London to avoid being extradited to Sweden, where he was accused of rape.
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange had skipped bail in London to avoid being extradited to Sweden, where he was accused of rape.PHOTO: REUTERS

STOCKHOLM • Swedish prosecutors said yesterday they had dropped a probe into 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.

Assange, 45, took refuge in the embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over the rape allegation, which he denies.

He feared Sweden would hand him over to the United States to face prosecution over WikiLeaks' publication in 2010 of thousands of classified military documents and diplomatic cables in one of the largest information leaks in US history.

The Swedish prosecutor's office said in a statement it had decided to end its seven-year probe. In a court document seen by Reuters, chief prosecutor Marianne Ny said there were no further avenues to pursue to take the investigation forward.

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Assange's defence lawyer Per Samuelson hailed Sweden's decision as a "total victory for us".

However, London police issued a statement after the Swedish announcement making it clear that Assange was still wanted by them.

"Westminster Magistrates' Court issued a warrant for the arrest of Julian Assange following him failing to surrender to the court on June 29, 2012," the police said. "The Metropolitan Police Service is obliged to execute that warrant should he leave the embassy."

Still, they acknowledged that the prosecutor's decision left Assange wanted for a "much less serious offence", and the police "will provide a level of resourcing which is proportionate to that offence".

Assange had skipped bail in London to avoid being returned to Sweden, saying that American officials made up the rape case in an attempt to have him extradited to the US and tried for espionage over the release of secret documents.

He remains defiant. "Detained for seven years without charge while my children grew up and my name was slandered," he said on Twitter. "I do not forgive or forget."

In response to yesterday's announcement, WikiLeaks said the focus would now shift to Britain. "UK refuses to confirm or deny whether it has already received a US extradition warrant for Julian Assange. Focus now moves to UK," the anti-secrecy website tweeted.

WikiLeaks played a central role in the 2016 presidential race when it published e-mails stolen through hacking the Democratic National Committee and later from Mr John Podesta, chairman of Mrs Hillary Clinton's campaign.

US intelligence agencies have concluded Russia was behind the hacking in an effort to interfere with the American political process, damage Mrs Clinton's campaign and help Republican Donald Trump win the White House.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, WASHINGTON POST

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 20, 2017, with the headline 'Sweden drops Assange case, but he's still wanted by London police'. Print Edition | Subscribe