Swedish prosecutors announced Monday they are reopening an investigation into rape allegations against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Assange, who's being detained at the Belmarsh maximum security jail in London, is accused of raping a woman during a trip to Stockholm in 2010.
Sweden's deputy director of public prosecutions, Eva-Marie Persson, told a press conference in the Swedish capital Monday that she planned to reopen the case, which Sweden's director of public prosecutions closed in 2017 because Assange was not available for questioning.
“After reviewing the preliminary investigation, my assessment is there is still probable cause to suspect Mr. Assange committed rape, or a lesser offense," Persson said.
Persson said she would issue a European arrest warrant and seek Assange’s extradition after he has served his 50-week sentence for jumping bail in the U.K. The statute of limitations in the case runs out in August 2020.
Assange’s legal team did not immediately respond to a request for comment but Per Samuelsen, Assange’s Swedish lawyer, said he was “very surprised” by the decision.
“I do not understand the Swedish prosecutor’s reasoning for reopening a 10-year-old case,” Samuelsen told local broadcaster SVT.
Kristinn Hrafnsson, WikiLeaks’ editor-in-chief, said Persson had been under “intense political pressure” to reopen the case but that it would “give Julian a chance to clear his name.”
"I do not understand the Swedish prosecutor’s reasoning for reopening a 10-year-old case."
Assange was accused of raping a woman, identified only as Miss W, who alleges she woke up to find Assange penetrating her without a condom. While preliminary charges were filed against Assange in 2010, he was never formally charged.
“I want to make it very clear, my decision to re-open the criminal investigation is not equivalent to taking a position on whether or not to file an indictment to the court. This will be a matter we have to revisit,” Persson said Monday.
The alleged victim of the assault urged prosecutors to reopen the case days after Assange was evicted from the Ecuadorian embassy.
Sweden is the second country seeking Assange’s extradition — he is facing extradition to the U.S. on charges of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion — and the U.K. government now faces a decision about where to send him.
Assange is currently preparing to fight another legal battle to prevent the U.S. Department of Justice from extraditing him to face charges of trying to help for U.S. army intelligence operative Chelsea Manning hack into a secure Pentagon computer system.
The decision about where to send Assange next will fall to the U.K. Home Secretary Sajid Javid.
Javid will have to decide which nation’s claim takes precedence “based on a variety of factors including the relative seriousness of the offenses, the date the requests were received, and whether the person had been accused or convicted,” according to Lawfare.
Last month, 70 U.K. lawmakers signed a letter urging Javid to send Assange to Sweden. The signatories said they “stand with the victims of sexual violence” and want to ensure the rape claim against the WikiLeaks founder could be “properly investigated.”
“We do not presume guilt, of course,” the letter said, “but we believe due process should be followed and the complainant should see justice be done.”
Cover: File photo dated 11/04/19 of Julian Assange. Swedish prosecutors are to reopen an investigation into a rape allegation against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, deputy director of prosecutions Eva-Marie Persson announced. (Victoria Jones/PA) (Press Association via AP Images)