Swedish prosecutors have decided to drop a years-long investigation into an alleged rape committed by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, though UK police said he would still be arrested if he leaves the Ecuadorean embassy in London. The prosecutors office announced the decision on Friday.
“Chief Prosecutor Marianne Ny has today decided to discontinue the preliminary investigation regarding suspected rape concerning Julian Assange,” the prosecutors office said in a statement, as reported by Reuters. In a statement released later Friday, the prosecutors office said it decided to end the investigation because “there is no reason to believe that the decision to surrender him to Sweden can be executed in the foreseeable future.”
Assange fled Sweden in 2012 and has been living at the Ecuadorean embassy in London to avoid extradition ever since. Swedish authorities have sought to interrogate him on allegations of sexual assault brought by two women in 2010. The 45-year-old Australian national has denied the allegations and dismissed them as a pretense for extraditing him to the US, where he could face criminal charges related to WikiLeaks’ publication of classified material. A Swedish prosecutor questioned Assange for four hours at the Ecuadorean embassy in November 2016.
Quoting a lawyer for Assange’s accuser, AFP reported that the accuser is “shocked” by the Swedish prosecutor’s decision, and that she maintains her accusations.
Today’s announcement brings a close to the seven-year legal saga, though UK police said prior to the decision that Assange is still wanted for jumping bail, according to the Associated Press. In a statement released Friday, the UK Metropolitan Police said Assange would still be arrested if he leaves the embassy for “failing to surrender to the court” in 2012. The statement said that UK police are “obliged to execute that warrant should he leave the embassy,” though it said that Assange is now “wanted for a much less serious offense” in light of the Swedish prosecutor’s decision.
The US Justice Department is also considering bringing charges against Assange for disclosing classified information, according to news reports last month. Speaking to reporters on Friday, Ny said the Swedish investigation could resume if Assange “were to return to Sweden before the statute of limitation on this case expires in August 2020.”
Quoting one of Assange’s lawyers, FranceInfo reports that he plans to seek political asylum in France. Assange requested asylum in 2015 in an open letter to then-President François Hollande, but the request was denied.
A WikiLeaks spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the implications of today’s decision. In a tweet posted Friday morning, the organization said: “UK refuses to confirm or deny whether it has already received a US extradition warrant for Julian Assange. Focus now moves to UK.” Shortly after the decision was announced, Assange tweeted a photo of himself smiling.
In February 2016, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) said that Assange has been “arbitrarily detained” at the embassy, and called for his release. In an interview with The Verge following the decision, Assange said “there must be consequences paid” for his detention.