Instead of being quietly "sequestered" by the CIA, as some had speculated after his recent infamous spat with Mike Pompeo, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange may soon be a free man after spending the last half decade holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
Moments ago, Swedish prosecutors said they decided to discontinue their long-running probe into alleged rape targeting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Assange denies the Swedish rape allegation and hasn’t been charged for it.
BREAKING: Sweden has dropped its case against Julian Assange and will revoke its arrest warrant— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) May 19, 2017
“Chief Prosecutor Marianne Ny has today decided to discontinue the preliminary investigation regarding suspected rape concerning Julian Assange,” the prosecutor's office said in a statement, as quoted by Reuters.
“Given that all options for moving the investigation forward are now exhausted, it appears that — in light of the views expressed by the supreme court on the proportionality of arresting someone in absentia — it is no longer proportional to maintain the decision to remand Julian Assange in his absence,” Ny wrote.
In response, Assange posted a picture of himself smiling on Twitter while his lawyer in Sweden, Per Samuelsson, told Swedish media: “It is a total victory for Julian Assange.” He added: “He is free to leave the embassy whenever he wants.”
The Swedish announcement comes six months after Assange was questioned by Swedish prosecutors at the Ecuadorean embassy in London over allegations he raped a woman during a visit to Sweden in 2010.
Ecuador, which has been sheltering Mr. Assange since 2012, allowed a Swedish prosecutor to question Mr. Assange only after Sweden agreed that an Ecuadorean prosecutor would put the questions to Assange provided by the Swedish side.
The decision to drop the investigation into alleged rape by Assange marks an end to a seven-year stand-off which led to the Wikileaks' founder self-imposed exile. Assange has lived in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012 in order to avoid extradition to Sweden over the allegation, which he denies.
One of Assange’s lawyers said earlier on Friday that closing the investigation or lifting the European arrest warrant would not necessarily mean he could easily leave for Ecuador, which has granted him asylum. “The first thing one likely needs to do is seek guarantees from the British authorities that he won’t be seized in some other way,” Melinda Taylor told TT news agency.
That, however, will be problematic, as London’s Metropolitan Police have announced that Assange will still be arrested if he leaves the embassy. Still, the Met indicated it was prepared to consider the case as low priority given Sweden had dropped the most serious charges pending.
“The [Met] response reflected the serious nature of [the] crime,” the police said in their statement. “Now that the situation has changed and the Swedish authorities have discontinued their investigation into that matter, Mr Assange remains wanted for a much less serious offence. The [Met] will provide a level of resourcing which is proportionate to that offence.”
Another of his lawyers, Melinda Taylor, said Mr Assange would probably seek assurances from British authorities that he would not be arrested for any other reason before leaving the embassy.
WikiLeaks wrote on Twitter it was seeking clarification from the UK over whether it had received an extradition request from the US, which has been investigating Assange for years following WikiLeaks’ publication of classified information. “UK refuses to confirm or deny whether it has already received a US extradition warrant for Julian Assange,” WikiLeaks wrote. “Focus now moves to UK.”
Jeff Sessions, the US attorney-general, said in April that arresting Mr Assange was a “priority”. He added: “We’ve already begun to step up our efforts and whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail.”