Sweden reopens inquiry into rape allegation against Assange

Sweden reopened an investigation into a rape allegation against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Monday and will seek his extradition from Britain, potentially delaying efforts by the United States to bring him to its courts.
WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange in a prison van in London earlier this month. Sweden and the US are seeking to extradite him.
WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange in a prison van in London earlier this month. Sweden and the US are seeking to extradite him.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

STOCKHOLM • Sweden yesterday reopened an investigation into a rape allegation against WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange, and said it would seek his extradition from Britain.

Deputy chief prosecutor Eva-Marie Persson said she would continue and conclude a preliminary probe that was dropped in 2017 without charges being brought because Assange had taken refuge in Ecuador's embassy in London.

Assange was arrested in Britain last month after spending seven years inside the embassy.

The US is also seeking his extradition on charges relating to the public release by WikiLeaks of a huge cache of secret documents.

Ms Persson said Sweden would request that Assange be detained in his absence on probable cause for an allegation of rape and that it would issue a European arrest warrant - the process under which his extradition would be sought.

The 47-year-old Australian is in prison in London after being sentenced to 50 weeks behind bars last month for jumping bail when he fled to the Ecuadorean embassy.

The decision to reopen the investigation poses the question of whether Assange will be moved to the United States to face conspiracy charges for hacking into classified information or to Sweden.

A British judge has given the US government a deadline of June 12 to outline its case against Assange.

The statute of limitation for rape in Sweden is 10 years - a deadline which would be reached in mid-August next year for the alleged incident involving Assange, leaving prosecutors pressed for time to file any formal charge.

The British courts will have to rule on any extradition request and the Home Secretary would decide which one takes precedence once Swedish prosecutors file theirs.

Responding to the reopening of the Swedish inquiry, WikiLeaks' editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said it would give Assange a chance to clear his name.

"Since Julian Assange was arrested on April 11, 2019, there has been considerable political pressure on Sweden to reopen their investigation, but there has always been political pressure surrounding this case," Mr Hrafnsson said in a statement.

If convicted in Sweden, Assange could face up to four years in jail.

Assange's supporters cast him as a dissident facing the wrath of a superpower over one of the largest compromises of classified information in US history.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 14, 2019, with the headline 'Sweden reopens inquiry into rape allegation against Assange'. Print Edition | Subscribe