Swedish prosecutors just announced that they are dropping the rape investigation against Julian Assange, the cofounder of Wikileaks. But it isn't yet clear if Assange will leave the Ecuadorian embassy in London any time soon.
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in a file photo from 5 February 2016 (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
"Director of Public Prosecution, Marianne Ny, has today decided to discontinue the investigation regarding suspected rape (lesser degree) by Julian Assange," Swedish prosecutors said in a statement.
Under Swedish law, today was the deadline for the Swedish authorities to decide whether they should renew or drop the arrest warrant for Assange originally issued in August 2010. But Swedish prosecutors said that if Assange visits Sweden before the statue of limitations expires in August of 2020, he could still be subject to arrest.
"We don't make any statement on the issue of guilt," Ny said in a press conference today when pressed by an Associated Press reporter about whether the charges were being dropped on a technicality. Prosecutors said that simply, "there is no reason to believe that the [extradition] to Sweden can be executed in the foreseeable future."
Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy since 2012. His self-imprisonment came on the heels of a rape investigation against him in Sweden involving two women. Assange has denied the allegations. He has also refused to leave the embassy, fearing extradition to the United States.
Previously, Assange promised to leave the embassy if Chelsea Manning was granted clemency. Manning had her sentence commuted by President Obama on his way out of office and was released earlier this week, but Assange reneged on his promise. Assange insisted that the only reason Obama released Manning was to make Assange look like a liar.
Ecuadorian prosecutors interviewed Assange in November 2016 and Swedish investigators interviewed Assange in March of 2017, both in London. But in a press conference today, the Swedish authorities said that they can't expect Ecuador to assist them, and that it is "now not possible to take any further steps that would move the investigation forward".
"In view of the fact that all prospects of pursuing the investigation are now exhausted, it appears that, in light of the views expressed by the Supreme Court in its assessment of the proportionality in this case, it is no longer proportionate to maintain the arrest of Julian Assange in his absence via a European Arrest Warrant," Ny said today at the press conference and in a statement.
More or less, they just gave up. Journalists in the room asked rather pointed questions about whether this case would encourage others charged of sex crimes that evading arrest was their best option.
Assange, an Australian citizen, tweeted a photo of himself smiling after the news from Sweden broke.
— Julian Assange (@JulianAssange) May 19, 2017
But officials in Britain could still nab him if he tries to set foot outside of the Ecuadorian Embassy any time soon. The US Justice Department still mulling charges against Assange, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said that prosecution of organisations like Wikileaks is a "priority".
"We are going to step up our effort and already are stepping up our efforts on all leaks," Sessions said at a press conference last month. "This is a matter that's gone beyond anything I'm aware of. We have professionals that have been in the security business of the United States for many years that are shocked by the number of leaks and some of them are quite serious."
After the statement Assange's lawyers argued that the warrant could be dropped so that Assange could fly to Ecuador to live as a free man.
"This implies that we can now demonstrate that the US has a will to take action... this is why we ask for the arrest warrant to be cancelled so that Julian Assange can fly to Ecuador and enjoy his political asylum," lawyer Per Samuelsson told news outlets last month.
British Police issued a statement today that Assange was still wanted in Britain on less serious charges. The charges still pending against Assange involve failing to surrender to a British court on 29 June 2012 — essentially jumping bail.
"Now that the situation has changed and the Swedish authorities have discontinued their investigation into that matter, Mr Assange remains wanted for a much less serious offence," the Metropolitan Police Service said in a statement. "The MPS will provide a level of resourcing which is proportionate to that offence."