Published: Fri, May 19, 2017
World | By Paul Elliott

Prosecutor saw no chance of extraditing Assange

Prosecutor saw no chance of extraditing Assange

Swedish prosecutors have dropped a rape investigation into Julian Assange , the founder of anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, bringing to an end a seven-year legal stand-off.

He has been living at the Ecuadoran embassy in London since 2012, and the British police have said they will arrest Assange as soon as he walks out of the embassy because he has broken his conditions for bail - a relatively minor offence under British law - by failing to surrender on June 29, 2012 for extradition to Sweden.

Mr Assange has not set foot outside the building, ultimately fearing he could be extradited to the U.S. over Wikileaks' publishing of huge amounts of classified information.

Four hours later, he tweeted: "Detained for 7 years without charge by while my children grew up and my name was slandered. I do not forgive or forget".

"Chief Prosecutor Marianne Ny has today chose to discontinue the preliminary investigation regarding suspected rape concerning Julian Assange", the prosecutors office said in a statement.

In a court document seen by Reuters, chief prosecutor Marianne Ny said there were no further avenues to pursue to take the investigation forward.

Possible US charges aside, Assange is still subject to an arrest warrant in the United Kingdom after he failed to surrender to Westminster Magistrates' Court in June 2012, London's Metropolitan Police Service said Friday. This warrant remains in force, even though the allegations are no longer being investigated.

The former computer hacker enraged Washington by publishing hundreds of thousands of secret US diplomatic cables that laid bare often highly critical USA appraisals of world leaders from Russian President Vladimir Putin to the Saudi royal family.

Assange, 45, has always denied the rape allegations made against him.

He gave a clenched fist salute to his supporters, and scores of journalists and TV crews, before maintaining that a "legal conflict" with the United States and the UK continues.

Manning was released on Wednesday after spending seven years in a USA military prison for passing the documents to WikiLeaks.

Samuelsson also said that the decision meant Assange "is free to leave the embassy whenever he wants", though he later told the TT news agency that he did not know when Assange might leave.

"This implies that we can now demonstrate that the U.S. has a will to take action... this is why we ask for the arrest warrant to be cancelled so that Julian Assange can fly to Ecuador and enjoy his political asylum", lawyer Per Samuelsson told AFP at the time.

As NPR's Frank Langfitt reports, Assange has remained at the Ecuadorean Embassy for years out of fear that an extradition to Sweden would spell another extradition, in turn, to the USA, "where he could face trial for leaking hundreds of thousands of secret diplomatic and military documents". Foreign Minister Guillaume Long said Assange was welcome to stay in the embassy if this was not granted.

Mr Assange previously said he would go to the USA if Wikileaks' source Chelsea Manning was granted clemency.

Assange, an Australian national, has previously said that he feared that if he left the embassy he could end up being extradited and face the death penalty in the United States over allegations of revealing hundreds of thousands o secret USA military and diplomatic documents through WikiLeaks, CNN reported.

Ny said that the decision to discontinue the investigation did not relate to the question of whether Assange was guilty or not, but rather because it was impossible to proceed with the investigation: "We don't make any statements on the issue of guilt". WikiLeaks also had a provocative role in the 2016 USA presidential campaign when it published emails written by Hillary Clinton campaign officials. US intelligence agencies have concluded the Russian government hacked the emails as part of an effort by Moscow to tilt the election in Trump's favour.

Friday's development follows a letter sent to the Swedish government by the government of Ecuador saying there had been a "serious failure" by the prosecutor, including a "lack of initiative" to complete inquiries.

Despite the dropping of the investigation, Assange is not a free man yet.

The Metropolitan Police stopped its round the clock presence outside the Embassy in October 2015 amid controversy over the escalating cost of the exercise - believed to be over £12 million. They were not allowed to question him directly but only through an Ecuadorean prosecutor.

"This is a total victory for us", Assange's lawyer Per Samuelson said.

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