Published: Sat, May 20, 2017
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

Ecuador bids to offer Assange asylum after Swedish probe dropped

Ecuador bids to offer Assange asylum after Swedish probe dropped

Sweden's top prosecutor on Friday dropped an investigation into a rape claim against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after nearly seven years, saying that's because there's no possibility of arresting him "in the foreseeable future".

In order to avoid extradition, Assange has been living in the Ecuadorean embassy to the United Kingdom in London since 2012. Assange, 45, believes the United States wants him extradited and arrested in connection with WikiLeaks' publication of classified US documents.

The Swedish prosecutor's office said in a statement it had made a decision to end its investigation. In a court document seen by Reuters, chief prosecutor Marianne Ny said there were no further avenues to pursue to take the investigation forward.

"But it by no means erases seven years of detention without charge under house arrest and nearly five years here in this embassy without sunlight", Assange said.

While the relief to Assange virtually paves way for him to walk free, the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) in London said that it remained obliged to arrest Assange should he leave the Ecuadoran embassy on a lesser charge of failing to surrender to a court. He did not take shouted questions from the reporters assembled outside and would not say if he plans to leave the embassy located in the posh Knightsbridge neighborhood.

Sweden's top prosecutor dropped a long-running inquiry into a rape claim against Assange on Friday, saying there was no way to detain or charge him "in the foreseeable future" because of his protected status inside the embassy.

"Mr. Assange remains wanted for a much less serious offence", than the original rape charge, the Metropolitan Police Service said in a statement.

"Julian Assange has been a victim of a huge abuse of procedure".

Prosecutors first interviewed Assange in November previous year in the Ecuadorean embassy.

Asked if she would support Britain extraditing Assange to the United States, she said: "We look at extradition requests when we receive them on a case-by-case basis".

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The maximum sentence for that offense is a year in prison.

Officials said in a statement that, under Swedish law, investigations must be completed as quickly as possible and must be dropped "when a prosecutor has exhausted the possibilities".

US and British officials Friday declined to say if the United States has requested Assange's extradition.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaks as Ecuador's Foreign Affairs Minister Ricardo Patino listens, during a news conference at the Ecuadorian embassy in central London August 18, 2014. The US CIA Director (Mike) Pompeo and the US attorney general have said that I and other WikiLeaks staff have no. "Focus now moves to U.K".

He argues that the sex was consensual and has denounced the accusations as "politically motived". Samuelsson was not immediately available for comments.

WikiLeaks tweeted after the Swedish announcement: "UK refuses to confirm or deny whether it has already received a USA extradition warrant for Julian Assange".

Police kept up round-the-clock guard outside the embassy until December 2015, when the operation was scaled back, in part because of the cost, which had exceeded 11 million pounds (over $17.5 million at the time).

Ny says she has withdrawn a European arrest warrant.

The Justice Department investigation of Assange and WikiLeaks dates to at least 2010, when the site first gained wide attention for posting thousands of files stolen by Manning.

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