Swedish prosecutors will reopen a probe into rape allegations against Julian Assange, potentially derailing U.S. attempts to extradite the WikiLeaks founder for hacking military computers and distributing secrets.
Authorities want to question Assange over nine-year-old accusations that were shelved when he skipped bail and sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Sweden’s interest opens a legal dilemma for Britain, which is also considering his extradition to the U.S.
“There may be conflicting extradition requests and then it will be entirely up to U.K. authorities to decide which case takes precedence; We will see what priorities they make,” Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Eva-Marie Persson said of the rape allegations Monday in Stockholm. “I hope that there will be a quicker decision this time.”
If Sweden requests extradition from the U.K., Home Secretary Sajid Javid would choose which case — Sweden’s, or America’s — to address first at the end of Assange’s 50-week term in a London jail for skipping bail. Javid would have to weigh factors including the seriousness of the offenses and the date each warrant was issued, according to U.K. extradition law.
U.K. law generally requires inmates to serve half their sentence, meaning Assange could be extradited by October at the earliest, Persson said.
Sweden issued an arrest warrant for Assange in 2010. The 47-year-old fought the extradition up to the U.K. 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 in his absence.
The Australian was arrested by British police in April after being expelled from the embassy, and the woman who made the allegations in Sweden asked that the prosecutors resume the rape investigation.
His Swedish attorney, Per E. Samuelson, said the decision to pursue the case was surprising because of his removal from the embassy and the British jail sentence.
“To be asked to again deal with this story, that is 10 years old, that’s just too much,” Samuelson said. Altogether, “it’s wrong of the prosecutor to torment him with this once more.”
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.
The rape allegation is not yet time-barred. Its statute of limitations will expire in 2020. Persson said that she can continue the investigation while Assange is incarcerated and could interview him via video link from the U.K.
“She has been very afraid and worried that Julian Assange would receive special treatment,” Elisabeth Massi Fritz, the alleged victim’s lawyer, said at a press conference in her Stockholm office. “Today’s decision from the authorities shows that he has not been given any special treatment in any way.”
The competing U.S. indictment was unveiled shortly after Assange was bundled out of the embassy. Assange is accused of assisting ex-Army analyst Chelsea Manning in “hacking a password stored on United States Department of Defense computers.” WikiLeaks published the cables, followed by other documents taken by Manning.
The indictment didn’t address a more recent episode involving Assange’s WikiLeaks — its publication of waves of emails that embarrassed Democrats during the 2016 presidential election, a trove that U.S. prosecutors have said were stolen during a Russian intelligence operation.
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