Sweden reopens rape case against Assange as WikiLeaks founder faces extradition

The U.S. is expected to file a formal extradition request with the U.K.

May 13, 2019, 6:18 AM

LONDON -- Swedish prosecutors announced Monday they will be reopening an inquiry into a sexual assault allegation against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and will be seeking his extradition once he has served his prison sentence in the United Kingdom.

Sweden's deputy director of public prosecutions, Eva Marie Persson, said at a news conference in Stockholm that the initial investigation into the rape charges, originating from 2010, was discontinued in May 2017 while Assange sought asylum at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

Assange, who has denied the sexual assault allegation, is currently being held at London's Belmarsh Prison after being found guilty of skipping bail on those same charges.

Swedish prosecutors are now able to revive the probe, as they could not access Assange for questioning while he was inside the embassy. The decision to discontinue the case "was not related to [lack of] evidence," according to Persson.

"There is still probably cause to suspect that Mr. Assange committed rape," she told reporters Monday. "The circumstances now allow for extradition to Sweden based on a European arrest warrant. This was not the case prior to April 11."

Swedish prosecutors said the United States will file a formal request with U.K. authorities in June for Assange's extradition to Sweden.

Assange, an Australian native, founded the website WikiLeaks in 2006 and drew attention over the next decade for releasing sensitive -- and often classified -- information. He was dramatically arrested by British police in April after being thrown out of the Ecuadorean Embassy.

Assange was subsequently sentenced to 50 weeks in prison by a British court for jumping bail in 2012, when he sought asylum at London's Ecuadorian Embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he was wanted on sexual assault charges.

Kristinn Hrafnsson, editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, said the "case has been mishandled throughout."

"Since Julian Assange was arrested on 11 April 2019, there has been considerable political pressure on Sweden to reopen their investigation," Hrafnsson said in a statement posted on WikiLeaks' official Twitter account. "Assange was always willing to answer any questions from the Swedish authorities and repeatedly offered to do so, over six years. ... This investigation has been dropped before and its reopening will give Julian a chance to clear his name."

Federal prosecutors in the United States unsealed a computer hacking indictment against Assange just hours after authorities in the U.K. arrested him last month, accusing Assange of a conspiracy with former U.S. Army intelligence analyst-turned-whistleblower Chelsea Manning to hack into U.S. Department of Defense computers in March 2010, "one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States," according to U.S. officials.

A lengthy legal battle is expected to take place after Assange told a London court via videolink he would contest extradition to the U.S., according to The Associated Press.

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