Assange hails victory after Sweden drops probe, says prepared to end impasse

Assange hails victory after Sweden drops probe, says prepared to end impasse

SWEDISH prosecutors Friday dropped a seven-year rape investigation into Julian Assange, a legal victory for the WikiLeaks founder who has been holed up in the Ecuadoran embassy in London since 2012.

He is wanted by British police for breaching bail conditions - and WikiLeaks is concerned this could result in him being extradited to the U.S., where he would face prosecution for publishing swathes of classified military and diplomatic documents.

The accusation against Assange dates from August 2010 when the alleged victim, who says she met him at a WikiLeaks conference in Stockholm a few days earlier, filed a complaint. On 19 June 2012, Julian Assange, acting in violation of the terms of his bail, took refuge in the Embassy of the Republic of Ecuador in London.

Though Assange's lawyer declared the dropped charges a "total victory" for his client, Assange remains unable to leave the embassy without the threat of arrest.

He said Assange had convinced Swedish prosecutors during a November meeting previous year that he was not guilty of any sex offences.

"Today is an important victory for me", he said, giving a clenched fist salute as he emerged onto the balcony of the embassy where he has been holed up for almost five years to avoid extradition to Sweden.

"Seven years without charge while my children grew up without me".

Assange believes he faces extradition to the United States for questioning over the activities of WikiLeaks if he leaves the embassy.

"In prison, under house arrest and nearly five years here in this embassy without sunlight!" he said.

The end of the Swedish investigation and the lifting of a European arrest warrant presents American prosecutors with a series of tough decisions about how - and whether - to pursue the case against Assange.

Assange has always claimed the charges against him were politically motivated. Assange, 45, believes the United States wants him extradited and arrested in connection with WikiLeaks' publication of classified US documents.

"It is a scandal that a suspected rapist can escape justice and thereby avoid the courts", attorney Elisabeth Fritz, said in a statement.

In view of this, and that to continue with legal proceedings would require Julian Assange's personal appearance in court, there is no longer any reason to continue with the investigation.

On Friday, prosecutors in Sweden said that they were quitting their attempt to extradite Julian Assange. British Prime Minister Theresa May said Friday that "any decision that is taken about United Kingdom action in relation to him (Assange) would be an operational matter for the police". Prosecutors were trying to determine, among other things, if Assange had sex with the woman while she was asleep and without using a condom.

Ny said the case could be reopened if Assange comes to Sweden before the statute of limitations expires in 2020.

Ny told reporters that prosecutors had been unable to make a full assessment of the case and were not making a finding on whether Assange was guilty or innocent of the allegations.

In January, Assange said he stood by an offer to go to the United States providing his rights were upheld and if former military intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who was responsible for a 2010 leak of classified materials to Assange's anti-secrecy group, was freed. On 16 December 2010, the City of Westminster Magistrates' Court chose to release Julian Assange on bail. They said this was a much less serious offense than rape, but he could still face up to a year in jail if convicted.