Julian Assange in a 2016 photo. Image: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
The Wikileaks founder still faces an arrest warrant in the UK.
Swedish prosecutors announced today that they were dropping their investigation of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange into allegations of rape.
Director of Public Prosecutions Marianne Ny and Chief Prosecutor Ingrid Isgren held a press conference in Stockholm today to discuss the decision, saying it was made not because they believe Assange to be innocent necessarily, but because they were unable to formally serve him the allegations during an interview at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, UK in November 2016, where Assange has been in exile since 2012.
During the press conference Ny asserted that the US had applied absolutely no pressure on Swedish prosecutors about the case. Asked after the conference if they had received any communication or inquiries from the US government about the case, Isgren and Ny said that at the end of March, they received an email from someone purporting to be from the FBI seeking information about the case. They said the inquiry was vague and they simply directed the person to the prosecutor’s web site for public information about the case.
Asked who the FBI person was, both said they had no memory of the name and had deleted the email. They asserted that because the email did not have anything to do with advancing the case, they had no reason to retain it. Swedish reporters questioned the legality of this decision, but Isgren and Ny insisted that they acted entirely within the law and regularly delete any communication that doesn’t advance a case or help it.
Prosecutors had until May 19 to submit a statement to the Stockholm District Court about the status of the investigation.
Assange was not charged with any crime but was wanted for questioning in Sweden on allegations of rape and coercion following sexual relations he had with two women in Sweden in August 2010. One woman alleged that Assange pinned her down to have sex. She also accused him of intentionally tearing a condom he wore during the act. The second woman accused him of engaging in intercourse with her while she was asleep and refusing her requests to wear a condom.
Assange has denied the accusations and has long claimed that sex with the women was consensual. Authorities allowed Assange to leave Sweden but then ordered him to return to face questioning over the allegations. Assange refused, believing that the order was a pretense for the US to extradite him from Sweden and face espionage conspiracy charges over his publishing of more than half a million secret military files leaked to him by Chelsea Manning.
Sweden refused to provide assurances that he would not be extradited to the US. After the UK Supreme Court rejected his bid to remain there, Assange fled to the Ecuadorian embassy.
He long insisted that Swedish authorities should question him in London, instead of forcing him to return, which Swedish authorities resisted. They finally relented, however, and met with him last November to conduct the questioning.
But under an agreement negotiated by Assange’s lawyers, the Swedish prosecutor was not allowed to question Assange directly. Instead, she had to submit questions in advance in Spanish to an Ecuadorian prosecutor, who then relayed them to Assange. The Swedish authorities were not allowed to ask any follow-up questions during the interview, nor interject in any way. All they could do was listen.
The case has lingered on for so long that Swedish authorities were forced to abandon part of it, after the statute of limitations on three of the four claims against him passed in August 2015. Assange was being sought for questioning on one count of unlawful coercion, two counts of sexual molestation, and one count of rape. The first three counts all expired previously, and today the Swedish prosecutors dropped their investigation into the final count of rape.
Asked why they waited so long to interview him in London and allowed three of the counts to become non-viable due to the statute of limitations on them, Isgren told reporters that they believed that the conditions imposed on them in London would have produced an inferior interview. They agreed in the end to conduct the interview in London in part because of the time pressure.
Assange will not be out of the clear even if the case in Sweden is dropped. He still faces an arrest warrant in the UK for violating his bail conditions when he fled to the embassy. British authorities maintain that they will arrest him the minute he leaves the Ecuadorian embassy.
This story has been updated to include new information from the press conference.