Swedish prosecutor to drop rape charge against Assange, but Wikileaks founder still faces arrest in Britain

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been living in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since 2012. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (WASHINGTON POST) - Swedish prosecutors on Friday (May 19) dropped their investigation into a rape allegation against Julian Assange, closing a nearly seven-year legal saga that led the WikiLeaks founder to seek sanctuary in Ecuador's embassy in London.

But British police said that Assange still faced arrest on charges of jumping bail if he walked out of diplomatic protection, which Assange claims is needed to keep him from being extradited to the United States on charges of disclosing confidential military and diplomatic documents.

The Swedish Prosecution Authority said in a statement that Sweden's director of public prosecution, Marianne Ny, "today decided to discontinue the investigation" into a rape claim against Assange.

Assange had disputed the allegations and argued that he risked being extradited from Sweden to the United States and tried for espionage.

In 2012, Assange took refuge in Ecuador's embassy. Assange's lawyer, Per Samuelson, called Sweden's decision a "total victory."

"From Sweden's point of view this is now over," Samuelson told the Reuters news agency.

WikiLeaks said that 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.

The silver-haired activist also posted a Twitter image of himself wearing a white T-shirt and smiling.

The London Metropolitan Police, however, made it clear in a statement that there was an outstanding arrest warrant for Assange.

"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 Metropolitan Police Service is obliged to execute that warrant should he leave the Embassy," it read.

The maximum penalty for breaching bail is up to a year in prison or a fine.

The police also recognised that Assange is now "wanted for a much less serious offence" and said they would "provide a level of resourcing which is proportionate to that offense".

It remains unclear whether there is a standing US extradition order for Assange. The policy of the Britain's Home Office is to neither confirm nor deny extradition orders until such time as a person has been arrested in relation to an order. In 2015, British police ended a multi-million pound policing operation that included round-the-clock guarding of Ecuador compound.

But they said they would beef up their "covert tactics" and that Assange would be arrested if he stepped outside of the embassy.

In explaining why Sweden was dropping the investigation, Ny said during a televised news conference in Stockholm that "all possibilities to advance the investigation have now been exhausted" and that the legal proceedings could only continue if Assange were present in Sweden.

But she said that if Assange returns to Sweden before the statute of limitations lapses in 2020, then an investigation could be reopened.

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