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Second time lucky: Sweden drops Julian Assange rape investigation
US Dept of Justice books one-way plane ticket in his name
A rape investigation involving everyone's favourite cupboard-dwelling WikiLeaker, Julian Assange, has been dropped, Swedish prosecutors told the world's press today.
Deputy director of public prosecutions Eva-Marie Persson told journalists that the case against Assange had been discontinued, around seven years after allegations were first made against him by two complainants related to incidents that allegedly took place in August 2010.
"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," said the Swedish Prosecution Authority in a public statement.
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Citing previous decisions of the Swedish Supreme Court on the legal tests needed to proceed with a rape investigation, prosecutors said these rulings "imply that it is insufficient for the injured party's version of events to be more credible than the suspect's [evidence, on its own, to justify a prosecution*]; however, a credible assertion of events on the part of the injured party in combination with other facts that have emerged may be sufficient for a conviction."
It appears that in Sweden there must be independent evidence that backs up an allegation before a prosecution can go ahead. An allegation alone, however compelling, appears not to meet the legal threshold.
Naomi Colvin, an Assange campaigner currently with the Bridges for Media Freedom campaign group, tweeted: "Without wanting to state the obvious, if the investigation had ever been conducted properly, this [today's dropping of the investigation] would have happened many years ago."
The campaign's Greg Barns chipped in to tell The Register: "The decision by Sweden is the only one it could have taken. It finally recognises that Julian Assange's adamant denial of wrongdoing is the truth. It is the US that must now be persuaded to drop its unfair and dangerous pursuit of Assange."
After the passage of nearly 10 years, it seems local prosecutors took the view that the rape complainants' recall of events plus the heavy international media coverage would not be enough to secure a conviction.
The rape investigation was reopened in May this year after Ecuador, which had been sheltering Assange in its London embassy, finally kicked him out of their broom cupboard. The prosecution had previously been discontinued in 2017, with the Swedes evidently having given up hope that they'd ever get their hands on Assange.
Sweden said one of the complainants had asked for the probe to be resumed in April this year.
Chief prosecutor Marianne Ny said at the time: "In view of the fact that all prospects of pursuing the investigation under present circumstances are exhausted, it appears that it is no longer proportionate to maintain the arrest of Julian Assange in his absence. Consequently, there is no basis upon which to continue the investigation."
Assange remains an involuntary guest of HM Prison Belmarsh in southeast London, with American prosecutors seeking his extradition and trial on a charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion "for agreeing to break a password to a classified US government computer". The Australian was remanded in custody as a flight risk, being refused bail, after famously entering Ecuador's London embassy to evade the British justice system. That little stunt cost his rich backers more than £90,000 in forfeited bail sureties – and eventually earned him a 50-week prison sentence once British police captured him.
He faces a full extradition hearing at Westminster Magistrates' Court in February 2020, with the inevitable appeal probably being heard at the High Court in the second half of next year.
Kristinn Hrafnsson, WikiLeaks editor-in-chief, said in a tweet from that organisation: "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."
Elisabeth Massi Fritz, the lawyer for one of the complainants, told The Reg:
Had the previous prosecutors in charge of this investigation recorded and held more detailed interviews with the supporting witnesses, then those testimonies would have had a higher evidentiary value, and could have been used today. Unfortunately that is not the case.
My client feels that it's unjust that Assange will never have to face a proper interrogation where he would be asked the same questions that she has had to answer so many times.
The right decision at this stage of the investigation would have been to question Assange in London, formally notify him of the allegations against him, and then proceed with an indictment.
The current prosecutor has done a thorough job since the preliminary investigation was resumed in May this year, and she deserves praise for that.
My client has done everything she could to get justice, and as her lawyer I have fought for her rights and interests for many years. It has been an honour to help her.
* The italics are The Register's insertion.