Europe

Julian Assange: Sweden drops rape investigation

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Media captionWho is Julian Assange?

Prosecutors in Sweden have dropped an investigation into a rape allegation made against Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange in 2010.

Assange, who denies the accusation, has avoided extradition to Sweden for seven years after seeking refuge at the Ecuadorean embassy in London in 2012.

The 48-year-old Australian was evicted in April and sentenced to 50 weeks in jail for breaching his bail conditions.

He is currently being held at Belmarsh prison in London.

The Swedish investigation had been shelved in 2017 but was re-opened earlier this year following his eviction from the embassy.

Separately, the US is seeking Assange's extradition from the UK over his alleged role in the release of classified military and diplomatic material by Wikileaks in 2010.

What did the prosecutors say?

Deputy Director of Public Prosecution Eva-Marie Persson took the decision to "discontinue the investigation regarding Julian Assange", the Swedish Prosecution Authority said.

"The reason for this decision is that the evidence has weakened considerably due to the long period of time that has elapsed since the events in question," it added.

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Image caption Eva-Marie Persson said the decision had been taken after interviews with seven witnesses

Ms Persson said: "I would like to emphasise that the injured party has submitted a credible and reliable version of events.

"Her statements have been coherent, extensive and detailed; however, my overall assessment is that the evidential situation has been weakened to such an extent that that there is no longer any reason to continue the investigation."

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Media captionJulian Assange being dragged from the Ecuadorean embassy in London

Prosecutors told reporters the decision to drop the inquiry had been taken after interviews with seven witnesses in the case.

One chapter over, another barely begun

Caroline Hawley, BBC diplomatic correspondent

With the end of Julian Assange's legal troubles in Sweden, one long chapter in the saga is over. But another one, in the United States, has barely begun.

The Wikileaks founder always argued that his fear of being extradited from Sweden to the US was why he had taken refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London. That political refuge ended unceremoniously in April, when he was dragged out by British police.

Now Assange faces 18 criminal charges in the US, including conspiring to hack government computers and violating espionage laws. If convicted, he could face decades in jail.

From behind bars in Belmarsh jail, Assange is trying to prepare for the case. The decision by Swedish prosecutors today means there'll now be no competing extradition request to the one from the US.

What was the Swedish investigation about?

Assange was accused of rape by a woman and sexual assault by another one following a Wikileaks conference in Stockholm in 2010. He has always denied the allegations, saying the sex was consensual.

He also faced investigations for molestation and unlawful coercion, but these cases were dropped in 2015 because time had run out.

What has the reaction been?

There was no immediate comment from Assange but Wikileaks welcomed the Swedish move to drop the investigation.

Wikileaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said: "Let us now focus on the threat Mr Assange has been warning about for years: the belligerent prosecution of the United States and the threat it poses to the First Amendment."

What charges does Assange face in the US?

Australian-born Assange faces a charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion in the US.

He is accused of participating in one of the largest ever leaks of government secrets, which could result in a prison term of up to five years.

In June, the then UK Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, formally approved an extradition request from the US.

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Image caption Assange gestures with a thumbs up after he was arrested by Met Police officers at the Ecuador Embassy in London

Assange was due to be released from HMP Belmarsh in September after serving the custody period of his jail term.

But a judge ruled that Assange should remain in jail until his extradition hearing because of his "history of absconding".

Last month, a judge rejected Assange's attempt to delay the full extradition hearing, which is scheduled to take place at Westminster Magistrate's Court in London in February.

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