Cape Argus

Assange not off rape charge

Whistle-blower set to face renewed prosecutio­n in Sweden after decade-long case reopened


SWEDISH prosecutor­s are reopening a rape case against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and seeking his extraditio­n after he served his 50-week prison term in Britain for jumping bail.

Eva-Marie Persson, Sweden’s deputy director of public prosecutio­ns, said in Stockholm yesterday that there was probable cause to suspect Assange committed a rape.

“It is my assessment that a new questionin­g of Assange is required.”

Swedish prosecutor­s filed preliminar­y charges – a step short of formal charges – against Assange after he visited the country in 2010, following complaints from two Swedish women who said they were the victims of sex crimes committed by Assange.

The Australian secret-spiller left Sweden for the UK in September 2010. He took refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in June 2012 to avoid extraditio­n. After almost seven years holed up in the building, he was arrested by British police on April 11 when Ecuador revoked his political asylum, accusing him of everything from meddling in the nation’s foreign affairs to poor hygiene.

He is in London’s Belmarsh Prison serving a 50-week sentence for jumping bail in 2012.

He is also being held on a US extraditio­n warrant for allegedly hacking into a Pentagon computer.

While a Swedish case of alleged sexual misconduct was dropped in 2017 when the statute of limitation­s expired, a rape allegation remains. Swedish authoritie­s shelved it because Assange was living at the embassy at the time and there was no prospect of bringing him to Sweden.

The statute of limitation­s on that case expires in August next year.

Assange has denied wrongdoing, asserting that the allegation­s were politicall­y motivated and the sex was consensual.

Assange’s Swedish lawyer, Per E Samuelsen, told Swedish broadcaste­r SVT yesterday he was very surprised by the decision to reopen the case.

“I do not understand the Swedish prosecutor’s… reasoning for reopening a 10-year-old case,” he said.

Persson said a European arrest warrant would be issued. A Swedish court would issue the extraditio­n request, which Assange could appeal against.

She said that while there was a risk the case might cut close to the deadline of the statute of limitation­s, “there is also a chance that we will be able to get him extradited before August 17 next year”.

The Swedish move would leave British authoritie­s to decide whether to extradite Assange to Sweden or to the US, where he is wanted separately for allegedly hacking into a Pentagon computer.

There was no immediate reaction from Elisabeth Massi Fritz, the lawyer for the woman who reported being raped by Assange.

The 47-year-old Australian met the women in connection with a lecture in August 2010 in Stockholm. One was involved in organising an event for Sweden’s centre-left Social Democratic Party and offered to host Assange at her flat. The other was in the audience.

A police officer who heard the women’s accounts decided there was reason to suspect they were victims of sex crimes and handed the case to a prosecutor. Neither of the alleged victims has been named publicly.

Assange faces a maximum of four years in prison in Sweden.

The British extraditio­n process is not swift, and Assange could appeal several times if decisions go against him. It’s expected it would take a year or longer for him to be sent to the US or Sweden even if he loses in court.

WikiLeaks’ Editor-in-Chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said the decision to reopen the case against Assange “will give Julian a chance to clear his name”.

He said Swedish prosecutor Eva-Marie Persson had been under “intense political pressure” to reopen the rape case.

He criticised authoritie­s for “mishandlin­g” the case from the start. | AP

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