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Sweden drops Assange probe

- Wiki founder faces arrest if he leaves Ecuador mission in London

Julian Assange

London, May 19: Sweden today dramatically dropped its seven-year rape investigation into Julian Assange but the 45-year-old WikiLeaks founder faces arrest if he were to leave the Ecuadorean embassy in London where he has been holed up for 4 years, 334 days and counting.

Assange was accused by two women that he had raped them during a trip to Sweden. However, on his behalf, it was claimed they had agreed to having sex with him.

Assange fired off a new tweet: "Detained for 7 years without charge while my children grew up and my name was slandered. I do not forgive or forget."

Ecuador's foreign minister Guillaume Long welcomed the Swedish decision and confirmed that his country will now try to secure safe passage for Assange.

He described the conduct of prosecutors as "wholly unacceptable... which has led to unnecessary delays in progressing this case. Given that the European arrest warrant no longer holds, Ecuador will now be intensifying its diplomatic efforts with the UK so that Julian Assange can gain safe passage, in order to enjoy his asylum in Ecuador".

But Scotland Yard dispelled any notion that Assange would walk out a free man by pointing out that there was still a warrant for Assange's arrest on the less serious offence of failing to surrender to the court in June 2012.

It would be "obliged to execute the warrant" if Assange left the embassy, it said.

However, sources confirmed that the European Arrest Warrant for Assange was discharged at Westminster Magistrates Court this morning.

David Leigh, the former investigations editor of the Guardian who worked with Assange on the edited publication of the leaked US embassy cables before falling out with the WikiLeaks founder, gave his opinion.

Leigh, now a professor of journalism at City University, said in a tweet: "What will change after Assange sex charges dropped? My bet: exactly nothing."

This afternoon the WikiLeaks founder made a rare appearance on the balcony of the embassy and hailed an "important victory". But he signalled he will remain inside the embassy.

He gave a clenched fist salute to his supporters, and scores of journalists and TV crews, before maintaining that a "legal conflict" with the US and the UK continues.

He said the "road is far from over", adding it was "extremely regretful" that he was still being threatened with arrest if he leaves the embassy.

He had missed seeing his children growing up. "That is not something I can forgive, or forget," he said, maintaining that he had been the victim of a "terrible injustice".

WikiLeaks tweeted after the Swedish announcement: "UK refuses to confirm or deny whether it has already received a US extradition warrant for Julian Assange. Focus now moves to UK."

The drama began with Sweden's director of public prosecution Marianne Ny announcing that his arrest warrant was being revoked as it was impossible to serve him notice.

At a news briefing, Ny said that by remaining in the embassy in London Assange had evaded the exercise of the European Arrest Warrant that would have seen him extradited to Sweden.

"At this point, all possibilities to conduct the investigation are exhausted," she said. "In order to proceed with the case, Julian Assange would have to be formally notified of the criminal suspicions against him. We cannot expect to receive assistance from Ecuador regarding this. Therefore the investigation is discontinued."

Ny warned: "If he were to return to Sweden before the statute of limitation on this case expires in August 2020, the preliminary investigation could be resumed."

She said it was "regrettable we have not been able to carry out the investigation", and added: "We are not making any pronouncement about guilt." Assange's alleged victim called the prosecutor's decision a "scandal", her lawyer said.

"It is a scandal that a suspected rapist can escape justice and thereby avoid the courts," according to the lawyer, Elisabeth Fritz. "My client is shocked and no decision to (end the case) can make her change (her view) that Assange exposed her to rape."

Assange has always denied the allegations and claimed they were part of a plot to see him extradited to the US over his involvement in the disclosure of vast numbers of secret cables.

Per E Samuelsson, Assange's lawyer in Sweden, told Swedish radio: "This is a total victory for Julian Assange. He is now free to leave the embassy when he wants. We have won the Assange case."

"This is one of the happiest days of my life as a lawyer," he commented. "The decision is based on the fact that he was questioned in November 2016 (by the Swedish authorities) and could provide a good explanation of what happened.

In April this year, we had evidence that the US is chasing him. It seems completely unreasonable for Sweden to prevent him from obtaining political asylum."

The lawyer added that the case had been dropped because prosecutors were convinced by Assange's version of what had happened: "This is obviously a case of consensual sex between two adults".

The British Prime Minister distanced herself from Assange's fate - which is much the line she will probably take on Vijay Mallya, too.

Asked if Britain would now support a request to extradite Assange to the US, May said: "We look at extradition requests on a case-by-case basis."

Speaking at a Conservative campaign event in Edinburgh, May added: "In relation to Julian Assange, any decision that is taken about UK action in relation to him were he to leave the Ecuadorian embassy would be an operational matter for the police."

Peter Tatchell, a human rights activist who remains one of Assange's most prominent supporters, commented: "It is good news from Julian's point of view. I'm not in a position to say whether the allegations against him were true or not. He has always denied them. He was never charged with any sexual offence, these are only at the level of allegations. So it is a relief that they are being no longer being pursued. But it is not entirely satisfactory because the Swedish prosecutors seemed to say that the case could be reopened if he at any point returned to Sweden."

Before he could leave the embassy, Tatchell added, Assange would need to "consult his legal advisers and begin some dialogue with the Metropolitan police and if necessary the attorney general".

He added: "Much more substantive is the risk if he stepped outside the embassy that he could face extradition to the United States. We know that there is an ongoing national security investigation into Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. We believe that a secret grand jury has been empanelled ... US attorney general Jeff Sessions said arresting Assange was a 'priority'. So he certainly is in danger of extradition to the US."


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