Julian Assange rape case will be reopened by Sweden, prosecutors say

The announcement leaves Britain facing a decision on whether to extradite him to the Scandinavian country or the U.S. after he completes a prison sentence.
Image: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange leaves Southwark Crown Court in London on May 1, 2019.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange leaves a London court earlier this month.Daniel Leal-Olivas / AFP - Getty Images

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
SUBSCRIBE
By Patrick Smith

A rape case against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will be reopened, Swedish authorities announced Monday.

Eva-Marie Persson, the country's deputy director of public prosecutions, said that in her view "there is still probable cause to accuse Mr. Assange of rape."

The Australian national is currently in jail in the United Kingdom, where he is serving a 12-month sentence for skipping bail in 2012, when he was fighting extradition to Sweden in connection with the same case.

Persson said Sweden will issue a European arrest warrant and request that Assange be brought to Stockholm for trial after he has served his British prison sentence.

The announcement leaves Britain facing a decision on whether to extradite him to the Scandinavian country or the United States.

Persson said that her team would also seek to interview Assange. "It is my assessment that a new questioning of Assange is required," she added.

Assange was arrested by police and carried out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he sheltered for almost seven years, on April 11.

Byers Market Newsletter

Get breaking news and insider analysis on the rapidly changing world of media and technology right to your inbox.

The case was reopened after Elisabeth Massi Fritz, a lawyer for the woman who accuses Assange of rape, said her client still wanted to seek a conviction.

Speaking at a press conference later Monday, Fritz said her client was "very grateful, and also very hopeful that she’ll be able to get redress."

"She has previously lost faith in Swedish judicial system. Now she has regained faith," she added.

The U.S. also is seeking the extradition of Assange, 47, so he can face charges relating to the release of hundreds of thousands of classified military documents provided by former Army intelligence officer Chelsea Manning.

That means a complex legal fight is certain to take place over his future, potentially involving a lengthy appeals process.

"When deciding which has precedence, a Swedish or U.S. extradition request, this decision will be left entirely to the British authorities," Persson said.

However, the clock is ticking: The statute of limitations on the rape charge expires in August 2020 and Persson confirmed that the investigation would end if there was no conviction by this point.

The case was triggered following complaints from two Swedish women who said they were the victims of sex crimes committed by Assange. He has denied the allegations, asserting that they were politically motivated and that the sex was consensual.

Swedish prosecutors filed preliminary charges — a step short of formal charges — against Assange after he visited the country in 2010.

Seven years later, a case of alleged sexual misconduct was dropped when the statute of limitations expired. That left a rape allegation, and the case was closed as it couldn't be pursued while Assange was living at the embassy and there was no prospect of bringing him to Sweden.

If convicted, Assange faces a maximum of four years in prison in Sweden.

Assange's Swedish lawyer Per E. Samuelson told Swedish broadcaster SVT that he was "very surprised" by the decision to reopen the case and maintained that his client is innocent.

"I think it is wrong to put this burden on him now when he is in prison in the U.K.," he added.

Kristinn Hrafnsson, the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, said in a statement: "Assange was always willing to answer any questions from the Swedish authorities ... This investigation has been dropped before and its reopening will give Julian a chance to clear his name."

Assange, who describes himself as a journalist, took refuge at the Ecuadorian Embassy in June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden.

Ecuador revoked his political asylum last month, accusing him of everything from meddling in the nation's foreign affairs to poor hygiene.

CORRECTION: (May 13, 2019, 10:02 ET): An earlier version of this article misspelled the last name of Assange's Swedish lawyer. He is Per E. Samuelson, not Samuelsen.

Associated Press contributed.