WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange remains in prison in Britain since his arrest last month after seven years spent inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
On Monday, Sweden’s Prosecutor General will announce whether a preliminary investigation into a rape allegation against Julian Assange, a case that dates back to 2010, will be re-opened. Should Assange be found guilty, he faces a maximum of four years in a Swedish prison.
“At a press conference, Deputy Prosecutor [Eva-Marie Persson] will announce her decision, which will formally be made immediately before the press conference”, the Swedish prosecution authority said in a statement.
If the preliminary investigation is re-opened, Julian Assange is likely to be arrested again in absentia. Subsequently, a new European arrest warrant may be issued, where Sweden requests that Assange be extradited from the UK. In theory, Assange himself could come to Sweden when his British prison sentence is served.
Former Prosecutor General Sven-Erik Alhem argued that the Swedish Prosecutor’s Office now has a very “tricky task” ahead of it.
“There is time, but it is particularly important to ensure that a preliminary investigation is realistic. The closer to the time limitation, the more the penalty value has declined. The prosecutor has an absolute obligation to be objective. In order to prosecute, you have to make a forecast: would it be possible to get a conviction? Another important component is the enormously long time that has elapsed”, Alhem told the Swedish daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter.
Sweden’s legal battle with Assange, an Australian national, has dragged on for nearly a decade. In 2010, two Swedish women accused him of sexual assault and rape.
The statute of limitations on the sexual assault allegations ran out in 2015, and the prosecution eventually dropped the investigation into the rape allegation in 2017. At that time, Assange was at the Ecuadorian Embassy, having taken refuge to avoid extradition to the US, where he is wanted in connection with WikiLeaks’ massive release of sensitive military and diplomatic documents.
Back then, the Swedish prosecution said the case could be re-opened if the situation changed. After Assange’s arrest last month, Elisabeth Massi Fritz, the lawyer representing the woman who accused Assange of rape, asked for the investigation to be re-opened.
Assange vehemently denies the allegations, and has fought through the British courts to get the extradition order and preliminary investigation dropped for fears that should he go to Sweden, authorities could hand him over to the US to face prosecution over the WikiLeaks case. Assange’s lawyers and supporters fear that the US may charge him under the Espionage Act and sentence him to the death penalty.
In April, Assange was arrested in the UK immediately after Ecuador withdrew its asylum. Hours later, US officials announced he had been charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion and requested his extradition.
The Ecuadorian government has pledged to hand over to Washington Assange’s documents currently kept in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he had been residing for seven years.
Last week, a UK court sentenced Assange to 50 weeks in prison for skipping bail.