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Swedish prosecutors have dropped their preliminary investigation into an allegation of rape against the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, bringing an end to a seven-year legal standoff, reports the Guardian.
“At this point, all possibilities to conduct the investigation are exhausted,” said Sweden’s director of public prosecutions, Marianne Ny, on Friday.
“In order to proceed with the case, Julian Assange would have to be formally notified of the criminal suspicions against him. We cannot expect to receive assistance from Ecuador regarding this. Therefore the investigation is discontinued. If he, at a later date, makes himself available, I will be able to decide to resume the investigation immediately,” Ny explained.
Assange has been essentially locked up inside the small Ecuadorian embassy in the United Kingdom since 2012 following his lost battles to avoid extradition from the UK to Sweden over the rape allegations, which he has always fervently denied.
Following the announcement, Assange took to Twitter to express his relief.
He tweeted a picture of himself looking relaxed and smiling be
— Julian Assange (@JulianAssange) May 19, 2017
Assange also mentioned that because of the allegations, which never brought formal charges, he was essentially detained away from his family and slandered.
Detained for 7 years without charge by while my children grew up and my name was slandered. I do not forgive or forget.
— Julian Assange (@JulianAssange) May 19, 2017
The lawyer who was representing the woman who made the allegation of rape described the decision as a “scandal,” reported the Guardian.
“It is a scandal that a suspected rapist can escape justice and thereby avoid the courts,” Elisabeth Massi Fritz told AFP in an email.
“My client is shocked and no decision to [end the case] can make her change [her view] that Assange exposed her to rape,” she said.
Without the threat of extradition, it would appear now, more than ever that Assange may finally be free to leave the embassy.
Assange’s lawyers have mentioned however, that he will not be leaving without assurances he will not face extradition to the US over possible espionage charges linked to WikiLeaks’ publishing activities – the basis on which Ecuador granted him asylum, explained the Guardian.
The Metropolitan police in London said Assange would also face immediate arrest for breaching his bail conditions; a warrant was issued when he failed to attend a magistrates court after entering the embassy, according to the Guardian.
“The Metropolitan police service is obliged to execute that warrant should he leave the embassy,” the statement said.
It continued, “Whilst Mr Assange was wanted on a European arrest warrant (EAW) for an extremely serious offence, the MPS response reflected the serious nature of that crime. 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 MPS will provide a level of resourcing which is proportionate to that offence.”
Even with the comments from UK authorities, Per Samuelson, Assange’s Swedish lawyer, described the decision as a victory, says the Guardian.
“This is one of the happiest days of my legal career. The decision was taken because he was interrogated in November 2016 and could give a good explanation of what happened … This is obviously about consensual sex between two adults.”
A sentiment that was echoed by the foreign minister of Ecuador, Guillaume Long, who added that he “regrets that the Swedish prosecutor delayed more than four years in carrying out this interview. Given that the European arrest warrant no longer holds, Ecuador will now be intensifying its diplomatic efforts with the UK so that Julian Assange can gain safe passage, in order to enjoy his asylum in Ecuador,” according to the Guardian.
The EAW against Assange was formally withdrawn at Westminster magistrates court on Friday morning, the Crown Prosecution Service confirmed. The UK Home Office said the decision to drop the rape investigation was a matter for the Swedish authorities, and not one in which the British government had any involvement, said the Guardian.
It should be interesting to see how this case develops further, British Prime Minister Theresa May has said, in response to a question about the UK’s willingness to support Assange’s extradition to the US, that “any decision that is taken about UK action in relation to him were he to leave the Ecuadorian embassy would be an operational matter for the police,” and her government will look at extradition on a “case by case basis.”