The two Swedish women who accuse WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange of sexual misconduct were at first not seeking to bring charges against him. They just wanted to track him down and persuade him to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases, according to several people in contact with his entourage at the time.
The women went to the police together after they failed to persuade Assange to go to a doctor after separate sexual encounters with him in August, according to these people, who include former close associates of Assange who have since fallen out with him.
The women had trouble finding Assange because he had turned off his cell phone out of concern his enemies might trace him, these sources said.
Assange, who was arrested and held in custody by a British court on Tuesday, has both admirers and detractors. His WikiLeaks group publishes secret documents from governments and companies, most recently making public a vast trove of U.S. State Department cables between Washington and embassies abroad that have cast a revealing and sometimes embarrassing eye on the inner workings of U.S. diplomacy.
Assange's elusiveness may have worked against him in the Swedish investigation, which might well have gone nowhere had he taken the women's calls and not left Sweden when police started looking into the allegations.
The Swedish investigation has undergone head-spinning twists and turns. After initially issuing a warrant for Assange's arrest on rape and molestation charges in mid-August, a Swedish prosecutor dropped the rape charge the next day. After this U-turn, it appeared likely that the whole investigation of the 39-year-old Australian computer hacker would be abandoned.
Assange's accusers then hired a lawyer who declared he would press prosecutors not only to keep the investigation going but to reinstate rape charges. The case was soon transferred to one of Sweden's three Directors of Public Prosecutions, Marianne Ny, who indeed decided to reinstate the rape investigation and continue the molestation probe. She ordered that Assange should be subject to official interrogation about the allegations.
After Assange left the country, Swedish authorities issued a European arrest warrant under which Assange could be detained and returned to Sweden. A spokeswoman for Swedish prosecutors affirmed, however, that at the moment Assange is not formally charged in Sweden with any criminal offense, but is only wanted only for questioning.
The most serious accusation Swedish prosecutors made against him in a statement on their website is that he committed "rape, less serious crime" — the least serious of three levels of rape charges that are on the statute books in Sweden. Conviction carries a maximum four year jail sentence and a minimum of less than two years, depending upon the circumstances.
As described by several people who were in contact with Assange and his inner circle at the time the allegations against him surfaced, both of his accusers are young Swedish women who came into contact with him during a visit to Sweden on behalf of WikiLeaks.
One of the women, identified in the British court hearing on Sweden's extradition request as Miss A, was listed on publicity for Assange's Swedish visit as a spokesperson for a group hosting the WikiLeaks leader.
People who were in contact with both Assange and other members of his entourage at the time say that the woman at some point invited him to stay at her residence.
Assange's financial resources are opaque, but by most accounts he maintains an austere lifestyle, supporting himself on the donations of wealthy and not-so-rich supporters and overnighting in a succession of friends' spare rooms.
According to the accounts of Assange's associates, his overnight stays at his erstwhile spokeswoman's residence soon evolved into a sexual relationship between the two. During one of their encounters, the woman later said, a condom Assange was wearing broke or split.
People who saw Assange and the woman in the days after this incident is said to have occurred said the two displayed little if any obvious sign of tension or hostility; to some who saw them at the time, it was not clear their relationship was anything other than amicable and chaste.
A few days later, however, people who were in contact with Assange then told Reuters, a second, younger woman went to a seminar addressed by Assange.
$15 train ticket
According to an account published by London's Daily Mail — which said it had access to heavily redacted versions of the statements both women made to Swedish police — the second woman had become obsessed by Assange after watching him on television. After hearing him speak at the seminar, the newspaper said, the woman, identified in court as Miss W, loitered outside the meeting hall, and eventually was invited to lunch with Assange and his entourage at a local bistro.
A day after their initial meeting — which the Mail account said included a visit to a natural history museum — Miss W agreed with Assange that he should spend the night at her apartment about 45 minutes outside Stockholm. The paper says she had to pay for his $15 train ticket because he had no cash and didn't want to use a credit card in case it would help authorities locate him.
That night, according to the accounts of both the newspaper and people who were in contact with Assange and his inner circle, he and Miss W had sex using a condom.
The next morning, however, under circumstances which remain deeply murky, the sources said, Assange allegedly had sex with the woman again, this time without a condom. Then, after a meal during which the Mail says that the woman joked that she could be pregnant, they parted on friendly terms, with Miss W buying Assange his train ticket back to Stockholm.
Two people who were in contact with Assange's entourage before, during and after these events said that while some details are still unclear, it appears that after parting from Assange, Miss W became increasingly concerned that he might have given her a sexually transmitted disease.
According to the sources, Miss W anxiously tried to phone Assange to plead with him to go to a doctor and be tested for sexually transmitted diseases. However, the sources said that Assange had turned his phone off, leaving Miss W no way to get in touch with him.
Becoming increasingly anxious about possible dire consequences of having had sex without a condom, Miss W then began trying to contact Assange through various people she believed were in touch with him.
This eventually led her to Miss A — who according to people who followed the case closely was not previously acquainted with Miss W.