Deputy director of public prosecution Eva-Marie Persson speaks during a press conference on May 13 2019 in Stockholm, Sweden. Picture: AFP/JONATHAN NACKSTRAND
Deputy director of public prosecution Eva-Marie Persson speaks during a press conference on May 13 2019 in Stockholm, Sweden. Picture: AFP/JONATHAN NACKSTRAND

London/Stockholm — Swedish prosecutors will reopen a probe into rape allegations against Julian Assange, a move that may wreak havoc with US attempts to extradite the WikiLeaks founder.

Authorities want to question Assange over a nine-year-old rape allegation, deputy director of public prosecutions Eva-Marie Persson said on Monday in Stockholm. She said there was still probable cause to suspect the crime occurred, although the investigation had been shelved while Assange hid in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

The decision to discontinue the investigation was not motivated by a lack of evidence, but by circumstances, she said.

The intervention is likely to complicate the US government’s attempt to extradite the 47-year-old Australian from Britain to face charges that he helped hack into military computers.

If Sweden requests Assange’s extradition from the UK, home secretary Sajid Javid would choose which request — Sweden’s or the US’s, to address first. Javid would have to consider factors including the seriousness of the offences and the date each warrant was issued, according to UK extradition law. Assange is serving a 50-week sentence in a UK jail for skipping bail, and any extradition would only take place once that ends.

Sweden issued an arrest warrant for Assange in 2010. He fought the extradition up to the UK Supreme Court, where he lost in 2012. While he was out on bail, Assange sought asylum in Ecuador’s embassy and as the years dragged on, Swedish prosecutors dropped the investigation because it had become impossible to pursue the probe in his absence.

Assange was arrested by UK police in April after being expelled from the embassy, and the woman who made the allegations asked that the prosecutors resume the rape investigation. A UK lawyer for Assange directed comments to his Swedish attorney.

The original rape probe related to the allegations of two women, one of whom said Assange failed to use a condom while another said he had sex with her while she was asleep. The women, both supporters of WikiLeaks, let Assange stay at their homes during a speaking tour in Sweden in 2010.

Most of the claims had expired due to the statute of limitations, but the rape allegation is not yet time barred. Its statute of limitations will expire in 2020.

Bloomberg