Sweden will reopen the rape case against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange: prosecutors

Assange is now in jail in the U.K. for jumping bail when he fought extradition to Sweden in connection to the case

Published May 13, 2019 12:55PM (EDT)

Julian Assange gestures to the media from a police vehicle on his arrival at Westminster Magistrates court on April 11, 2019 in London, England. (Getty Images/Jack Taylor)
Julian Assange gestures to the media from a police vehicle on his arrival at Westminster Magistrates court on April 11, 2019 in London, England. (Getty Images/Jack Taylor)

Swedish prosecutors announced Monday that they are reopening an investigation into an allegation of rape against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Eva-Marie Persson, the country's deputy director of public prosecutions, said at a news conference in Stockholm that in her view, "there is still probable cause to accuse Mr. Assange of rape."

"It is my assessment that a new questioning of Assange is required," Persson also said.

The founder of the whistleblower organization is currently in jail in the United Kingdom, where he is serving a 12-month sentence for skipping bail in August 2012 as he fought extradition to Sweden in connection with the same case. Assange has denied the allegations, which also included a second claim of sexual misconduct that can no longer be pursued in criminal court due to the statute of limitations.

Persson said Sweden will issue an arrest warrant and request that Assange be brought to Sweden for a trial after he completes his sentence in the U.K.

The announcement leaves British authorities to weigh whether to extradite Assange to the Scandinavian country or to the U.S., where Assange faces charges related to his role in the release of thousands of secret government documents stolen and provided to WikiLeaks by former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.

Assange was arrested by British authorities on April 11 and carried out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he sheltered for almost seven years. His arrest came after Ecuador rescinded Assange's asylum claim due to "repeated violations to international conventions and daily life."

"Today, I announce that that the discourteous and aggressive behavior of Mr. Julian Assange, the hostile and threatening declarations of its allied organization against Ecuador and especially the transgression of international treaties have led the situation to a point where the asylum of Mr. Assange is unsustainable and no longer viable," Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno said at the time.

Moreno's decision to revoke Assange's asylum at Ecuador's embassy in London pointed to a shift in the country's politics since it extended refuge to him and capped a standoff that first began in 2012.

Moreno previously pledged that he would not turn Assange over to any country with the death penalty. Assange accused the Ecuadorian government of attempting to end his asylum last year because of new rules the embassy imposed on him, which required him to pay for medical bills and phone calls, stay away from commenting on political issues online and clean up after his pet cat. Staff at the Ecuadorian embassy also reportedly complained of Assange "riding a skateboard in the halls, of playing soccer on the grounds and behaving aggressively with security personnel."

Assange took refuge in the embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over allegations that he had sexually molested one woman and raped another in August 2010. Assange has maintained his innocence in connection to the sex abuse allegations, casting it as a ploy for his eventual extradition to the U.S.

Sweden discontinued its investigation into Assange in May 2017, as the fugitive WikiLeaks founder holed up in Ecuador's embassy. It was reopened after Elisabeth Massi Fritz, the lawyer for the woman who accused Assange of rape, said her client still wanted to seek a conviction.

Swedish prosecutors argued Monday that time is of the essence in their investigation, because the statute of limitations in the rape case expires in August of 2020.

Fritz on Monday said her client was "very grateful and also very hopeful that she'll be able to get a redress."

"She has previously lost faith in Swedish judicial system," she added. "Now she has regained faith."

Kristinn Hrafnsson, WikiLeaks' editor-in-chief, said reopening the case 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," he said in a statement. "This investigation has been dropped before, and its reopening will give Julian a chance to clear his name."

By Shira Tarlo

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