Assange rape charges dropped — but he’s not in the clear yet
Sweden drops the rape investigation against him, but UK police say if he leaves the London embassy, he will be arrested for breaching his bail conditions
London/Oslo — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is in self-imposed exile in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, moved marginally closer to freedom on Friday when Swedish prosecutors moved to drop a rape investigation against him.
The Australian was the world’s best-known activist hacker in 2012 when he walked into Ecuador’s embassy in London, applying for humanitarian asylum rather than face questioning in Sweden over accusations of rape and sexual molestation.
Sweded prosecutor Marianne Ny said on Friday that her office will drop an investigation into Assange regarding suspected rape, according to an e-mailed statement.
"The detention order has been revoked," according to the prosecutor’s memo to Stockholm’s district court. Considering that all possibilities to take the investigation further have been exhausted, it no longer appears "proportional to uphold the decision about detention of Julian Assange in absentia and maintaining the European detention order. I have, therefore, revoked the decision to detain Julian Assange in his absence".
A lawyer for Assange welcomed the decision, saying it was the "end of his nightmare". "We have been waiting a long time for this decision," Christophe Marchand, a member of Assange’s Brussels-based legal team, told AFP. "Assange has been a victim of a huge abuse of procedure. We are very pleased and very moved, as this marks the end of his nightmare."
Assange sought refuge at the embassy after exhausting options in UK courts to avoid extradition over the allegations stemming from a 2010 trip to Sweden. He has refused to return to the Scandinavian country, citing risks he will be extradited to the US over the release of secret documents.
London police ended the round-the-clock guards at the Ecuadorian embassy in October after anger over the cost. UK government offices referred comment on Assange’s case to the police.
London’s Metropolitan Police originally said the Swedish prosecutor’s decision left Assange wanted for a "much less serious offence" and the police would prioritise "arresting those who are currently wanted in connection with serious violent or sexual offences for the protection of Londoners".
However, shortly thereafter, British police said they would have to arrest Assange for breaching his bail if he leaves the embassy as a warrant was issued against him in 2012 after he failed to hand himself in for extradition to Sweden, adding: "The Metropolitan Police Service is obliged to execute that warrant should he leave the embassy".
The UK Crown Prosecution Service said that breach of bail is punishable by up to a year in prison or a fine. London police said they are strengthening a "covert plan" to prevent his departure.
Assange has always denied the rape claims, which he feared would see him extradited to the US and tried over the leaking of hundreds of thousands of secret US military and diplomatic documents. He said American officials made up the case in an attempt to have him extradited. The US opened a criminal investigation into WikiLeaks after the organisation published hundreds of thousands of leaked State Department cables in 2010.
Although he has not been formally charged, Assange has often implied — without much hard evidence — that the US would gladly try to assassinate him.
Bloomberg and AFP