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Sweden reopens rape case against WikiLeaks' Julian Assange, wants extradition

FILE PHOTO. Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, speaks to media and supporters from a balcony at the Ecuadorian embassy in London on May 19, 2017. Bloomberg photo by Luke MacGregor.

LONDON - Swedish prosecutors announced Monday they are reopening an investigation into a rape allegation against Julian Assange, a move that could affect efforts to extradite the WikiLeaks founder to the United States.

Speaking at a news conference in Stockholm, Eva-Marie Persson, Sweden's deputy director of public prosecutions, said there is "still a probable cause to suspect that Assange committed rape" and "a new questioning of Assange is required."

Assange denies the allegations.

Last month, Assange was expelled from the Ecuadoran Embassy in London, where he had claimed refuge for nearly seven years, since Sweden initially requested his extradition. Assange was arrested by British police on April 11 and later sentenced to 50 weeks in a British prison for skipping bail.

Sweden discontinued its investigation in 2017 because authorities said they were unable to advance the case while Assange was holed up at the embassy.

The Swedish investigation has been reopened at the request of the alleged victim.

Earlier this month, Assange told a British court that he would not consent to being extradited to the United States, where he is wanted on a charge of conspiring with a former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to hack a Defense Department computer. U.S. officials have been investigating Assange and Manning for their roles in the release of classified military and diplomatic documents in 2010.

The U.S. government is expected to outline its formal case for extradition in a British court next month.

If Sweden does seek to extradite Assange - a logical step if it wants to move forward with the rape investigation - Britain would face two competing extradition requests. It would be up to Britain's Home Secretary to decide which request, if either, to prioritize.

Extradition experts said that decision would likely rest on factors such as the gravity of the allegations, the chronology of events and which extradition request came first.

Rebecca Niblock, an extradition lawyer with the London-based firm Kingsley Napley, said the Swedish case would likely take precedence over the U.S. one. "It would be very difficult politically to say that a computer intrusion offence is more serious than an allegation of rape," she said.

If Assange were extradited to Sweden, then the United States could still pursue an extradition request with Swedish authorities. In that scenario, Britain would have to give consent.

Persson, the Swedish prosecutor, said that following Assange's arrest last month in London, "the circumstances in this case have changed."

She said that according to information received from British authorities, Assange will "serve 25 weeks of his sentence before he can be released."

She added: "I am well aware of the fact that an extradition process is ongoing in the U.K. and that he could be extradited to the U.S. In the event of a conflict between a European arrest warrant and a request for extradition from the U.S., U.K. authorities will decide on the order of priority. The outcome of this process is impossible to predict."

Swedish prosecutors argued Monday that time is of essence in their case, because the statute of limitations in the rape case expires in August 2020.

Following a trip to Stockholm in August 2010, Assange was accused of sexual misconduct by two Swedish women. Assange denied the claims, saying the sex was consensual. In 2015, Swedish prosecutors dropped their probe into some of the allegations - sexual molestation and unlawful coercion - because of the statue of limitations had expired, but they continued their investigation into an allegation of rape.

WikiLeaks editor Kristinn Hrafnsson said reopening the Swedish case would give Assange "a chance to clear his name."

Elisabeth Massi Fritz, the lawyer for Assange's accuser, told a news conference in Stockholm that her client is "very hopeful about getting restitution, and we both hope that justice will win."



This article was written by Karla Adam, a reporter for The Washington Post.

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