(Adds Home Office source quotes in final 3 pars)
Swedish prosecutors are to reopen an investigation into a rape allegation against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, deputy director of prosecutions Eva-Marie Persson announced.
She told a press conference in Stockholm that circumstances had changes following Assange’s arrest last month when he was dragged out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he had lived for almost seven years.
Swedish prosecutors dropped the rape investigation in 2017 because they were unable to proceed while he remained inside the embassy.
Assange had also faced investigation for a second sex-related allegation in Sweden, which was dropped in 2017 because the statute of limitations had expired.
He denied both allegations.
Eva-Marie Persson said: “The prosecutor will shortly request that Julian Assange be detained in his absence suspected on probable cause for an allegation of rape from August 2010.
“To be able to execute a detention order, the prosecutor will issue a European Arrest Warrant. An application for a detention order will be submitted to Uppsala District Court, as the suspected crime took place in Enkoping municipality.
“On account of Julian Assange leaving the Ecuadorian embassy, the circumstances in this case have changed. I take the view that there exists the possibility to take the case forward.
“Julian Assange has been convicted of a crime in the UK and will serve 25 weeks of his sentence before he can be released, according to information from UK authorities.
“I am well aware of the fact that an extradition process is ongoing in the UK and that he could be extradited to the US.
“In the event of a conflict between a European Arrest Warrant and a request for extradition from the US, UK authorities will decide on the order of priority. The outcome of this process is impossible to predict.
“However, in my view the Swedish case can proceed concurrently with the proceedings in the UK. Reopening the investigation means that a number of investigative measures will take place.
“In my opinion a new interview with the suspect is required. It may be necessary, with the support of a European Investigation Order, to request an interview with Julian Assange be held in the UK. Such an interview, however, requires Julian Assange’s consent.”
Kristinn Hrafnsson, editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks said: “Since Julian Assange was arrested on April 11 2019, there has been considerable political pressure on Sweden to reopen their investigation, but there has always been political pressure surrounding this case.
“Recall that it was initially dropped in 2010 when a prosecutor concluded that, ‘no crime at all’ had occurred. It was reopened as WikiLeaks prepared to publish the Iraq War Logs.
“This case has been mishandled throughout. After the Swedish prosecutor refused to question Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy for years, it was only when forced by Swedish courts that she travelled to London to finally question Assange.
“Then Sweden wanted to drop its arrest warrant for Assange as early as 2013. It was the British government that insisted that the case against him continue.
“Since the investigation was closed in 2017, we have received reports of the destruction of records and correspondence on behalf of UK and Swedish authorities, surely an impediment to a thorough investigation.
“Assange was always willing to answer any questions from the Swedish authorities and repeatedly offered to do so, over six years. The widespread media assertion that Assange ‘evaded’ Swedish questioning is false.
“This investigation has been dropped before and its reopening will give Julian a chance to clear his name.”
Home Secretary Sajid Javid could ultimately play a role in deciding whether Assange faces courts in the US or Sweden.
It is understood that the Extradition Act says that where there are requests for extradition from both a non-EU state and an EU member the Home Secretary “may order proceedings on one of the requests to be deferred until the other has been disposed of”, a Whitehall source said.
The Home Secretary would take into account factors including the “relative seriousness of the offence”, whether a person has been convicted and the date of the request for assistance but the source said “I would suggest we are not at that point yet”.