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There’s a battle brewing over where Julian Assange should be sent to face the music, and his team is showing a distinct preference for Sweden rather than the U.S.
The WikiLeaks founder, who was arrested Thursday in London after being kicked out of the Ecuadorian Embassy there, is preparing to fight efforts to extradite him to the U.S., where he’s accused of trying to help former Army analyst Chelsea Manning to hack into a secure Pentagon computer system in 2010. A 2018 extradition request from the DOJ was unsealed Thursday, but the White House hasn't commented further.
But investigators in Sweden say they’re considering reopening a 2010 rape case against Assange, and U.K. lawmakers are urging the British government to make him answer those allegations.
More than 70 U.K. lawmakers have signed a letter urging Home Secretary Sajid Javid to force Assange to travel to Sweden, where he is accused of raping a woman during a trip to Stockholm in 2010.
The signatories said they “stand with the victims of sexual violence” and ensure the rape claim against the WikiLeaks founder could be “properly investigated.”
“We do not presume guilt, of course, but we believe due process should be followed and the complainant should see justice be done,” the letter said.
U.K. opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has also urged Javid not to send Assange to the U.S. “for exposing evidence of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Assange was accused by two women of nonconsensual sex during his visit to Stockholm in 2010. The statute of limitations in the first case, in which he was accused by Anna Ardin of deliberately tampering with a condom prior to having sex, ran out in 2015.
The second allegation was made by a woman identified only as Miss W, who says she woke up to find Assange penetrating her without a condom. Investigators dropped the case in 2017, but prosecutors in Stockholm say they’re looking into the possibility of reopening the case. The statute of limitations in this case doesn’t run out until August 2020.
Assange entered the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012 in order to avoid extradition to Sweden where he was wanted for questioning. Assange has always denied any wrongdoing on his part, claiming all sexual activity was consensual.
It appears that Assange is now ready to answer investigators’ questions:
“We are absolutely happy to answer those queries if and when they come up,” Jennifer Robinson, one of Assange’s lawyers, told Sky News television about the rape claims. “The key issue at the moment is U.S. extradition, which we have warned about for many years.”
If the investigators in Stockholm do make a formal request to extradite Assange, British law says it will be up to Javid to decide which request takes priority.
Assange’s refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy ended last week, with the government in Quito claiming it had run out of patience with the 47-year-old. Over the weekend President Lenin Moreno claimed Assange was running a spying operation out of the embassy:
“We can not allow our house, the house that opened its doors, to become a center for spying,” Moreno told the Guardian. “This activity violates asylum conditions. Our decision is not arbitrary but is based on international law.”
Cover: Julian Assange after being removed from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. --Victoria Jones/PA Wire URN:42299363 (Press Association via AP Images)