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May 14, 2019

Sweden reopens rape probe against Assange


May 14, 2019

Swedish prosecutors said on Monday they were reopening a 2010 rape investigation against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, hoping to bring him to justice before the statute of limitations expires in August 2020.

The 47-year-old has claimed the Swedish allegations were a pretext to transfer him to the United States, where he fears prosecution over the release by WikiLeaks of millions of classified documents.

"I have today decided to reopen the investigation... There is still probable cause to suspect that Mr Assange committed rape," the deputy director of public prosecutions, Eva-Marie Persson, told reporters.

"The previous decision (in May 2017) to close the investigation was not based on difficulties related to evidence, but on difficulties that blocked the investigation." The Australian whistleblower, who holed himself up in the Ecuadoran embassy in London for seven years to avoid a British extradition order to Sweden, was arrested on April 11 after Ecuador gave him up.

A London court sentenced him on May 1 to 50 weeks in jail for breaching the British order. Now that Assange has left Ecuador’s embassy, "I am of the opinion that the conditions are in place once again to pursue the case," the prosecutor said.

Persson said she hoped Assange could be questioned again, adding that she would ask a Swedish court to remand him in custody in absentia, and that a European arrest warrant would be issued.

Assange’s Swedish lawyer, Per E Samuelson, said Sweden was "embarrassing itself" by reopening a decade-old case. "I’m not in the least concerned about the question of guilt," he told Swedish television.

Assange’s spectacular arrest revived his Swedish accuser’s hopes of seeing him brought to justice, and her lawyer had asked prosecutors to reopen the rape investigation. The alleged victim, who says she met Assange at a WikiLeaks conference in Stockholm, filed a complaint in August 2010.

She accused him of having s.. with her -- as she slept -- without using a c....m despite repeatedly having denied him unprotected s... Assange has always denied the allegations. WikiLeaks’s editor, Kristinn Hrafnsson, said on Monday the reopening of the investigation would give him "a chance to clear his name".

Meanwhile, the lawyer for the plaintiff, Elisabeth Massi Fritz, told reporters that Monday’s decision sent "a very important signal: that everyone is equal before the law. No one is above the law, even if your name is Julian Assange."

With the Australian in the Ecuadoran embassy, the Swedish case dragged on for years over procedural difficulties and prosecutors were never granted permission to question him directly. In testimony released in December 2016 -- after an Ecuadoran prosecutor grilled him over questions supplied by Swedish prosecutors -- Assange insisted the sex was consensual.

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