Swedish prosecutors will reopen their rape investigation into WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Mr Assange, 47, is serving a 50-week jail sentence in Britain for jumping bail on an arrest warrant stemming from the alleged sex crimes in which he was accused of sexual assault and rape by two women in Sweden after visiting the country in August 2010.
Sweden’s deputy director of public prosecution Eva-Marie Persson confirmed to media on Monday that the investigation would be resumed.
“I have today taken the decision to reopen the preliminary investigation,” she said at a news conference.
Assange had repeatedly denied the allegations.
Reopening the investigation became an option after the Australian was arrested on April 11 in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he had been holed up for nearly seven years to avoid extradition to Sweden to face the sexual assault accusations against him.
Officers from Scotland Yard moved in on him on after Ecuador’s government revoked his asylum, saying it had had enough of Mr Assange and what they called his rude, aggressive and unsanitary behaviour inside their embassy in the swanky London neighbourhood of Knightsbridge.
Assange’s Swedish lawyer, Per E Samuelson, told Swedish television the WikiLeaks founder wanted to help put Swedish rape allegations to bed and only feared being extradited to the US.
“I’m surprised. It’s embarrassing for Sweden to reopen the investigation,” Mr Samuelson told broadcaster SVT.
Wikileaks said the reopening of the Swedish rape case would give Assange “a chance to clear his name”.
“There has been considerable political pressure on Sweden to reopen their investigation, but there has always been political pressure surrounding this case,” Wikileaks editor-in-chief, Kristinn Hrafnsson said in a statement.
Mr Assange is expected to serve at least 25 weeks of his UK sentence before he can be released, Ms Persson said.
At a separate news conference, the alleged victim’s lawyer, Elisabeth Massi Fritz, said the decision to reopen the case had been “very gratifying” and that she expected this would result in a criminal charge.
My client and I are very much looking forward to finally being notified of the prosecutor’s decision. We are of course hopeful that the preliminary investigation will be reopened so that Assange can finally face justice in Sweden.
— Elisabeth Massi Fritz (@ElisabethMFritz) May 9, 2019
Assange is also facing an extradition order from the United States, which wants to prosecute him on charges that he conspired to help the US Army’s Private Chelsea Manning download and leak a massive trove of classified military documents.
Sweden’s decision to revive its investigation into Mr Assange has raised the question of which country’s extradition requests will take precedence.
Nick Vamos, former head of extradition at Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service, told Reuters that the UK proceedings should not take more than 18 months.
Stockholm first issued a European warrant for Mr Assange in 2010 after two women accused him of sexual molestation and assault, and British police arrested him.
What followed was a years-long extradition battle, but the UK Supreme Court ultimately ruled against him in 2012.
But before his scheduled extradition to Sweden in 2012, he took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy.
The police inquiry into the alleged crimes were then shelved because Mr Assange was unavailable for questioning in person.
Mr Assange and his supporters have called the Swedish investigation a pretext for his extradition to the US, where they claim he could face the death penalty.
The charges so far prepared against him in the US carry a prison sentence of five years, but further charges could be possible.
Image: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange seen in police van following his arrest in London.