Sweden to re-open rape probe into WikiLeaks founder Assange

After a two-year hiatus, Sweden announced on Monday that it will re-open a preliminary rape investigation into WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange that was dropped in 2017.

Eva-Marie Persson, deputy chief prosecutor, said that she "shortly" will file an application at the district court in Uppsala, north of Stockholm, that Assange "be detained in his absence suspected on probable cause for an allegation of rape from August 2010."

The alleged crime occurred in the municipality of Enkoping, which is part of the Uppsala court's jurisdiction.

She was also planning to file a European arrest warrant requesting Assange's extradition to Sweden after he has served a sentence in Britain for skipping bail.

Persson said Swedish courts "on several occasions have examined the detention issue" and concluded that Assange was "suspected of rape on August 17 (2010) on probable cause, which is the higher degree of suspicion."

The Swedish statute of limitations regarding the rape probe does not run out until August 17, 2020, she said.

Persson's decision was announced after a request was made on April 11 by the lawyer Elisabeth Massi Fritz, who represents a woman who alleges that she was raped by Assange during a 2010 visit to Sweden. Assange has denied the allegation.

The request was made the same day as British police dragged Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy in London after Ecuador withdrew his political asylum.

"On account of Julian Assange leaving the Ecuadorian embassy, the circumstances in this case have changed," Persson told a news conference.

A British court on May 1 sentenced Assange to 50 weeks in prison for breaching bail conditions in Britain over a 2010 warrant.

Assange, 47, is also the subject of a US extradition request linked to charges of conspiring with former US military intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to leak a trove of classified material in 2010.

Persson said she would seek to conduct a new interview with Assange in Britain, possibly via videolink, but could not offer a date and "this hinges on Assange's consent" as part of her effort to conclude the preliminary investigation.

Since the US also wants Assange's extradition, it would be "up to the British authorities to determine which request would have precedence," she said.

In London, Kristinn Hrafnsson, editor of the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, told dpa that the Swedish decision could give Assange "the chance to clear his name."

"Assange has always been willing to answer questions," he said.

Assange's Swedish lawyer Per E Samuelson said he was "very surprised" over the prosecutor's decision.

"It is unreasonable to torment a person who is serving a prison sentence in England and who has (just) been requested to be extradited to the United States over his journalistic work," he said.

This was a reference to the publication of classified US documents.

A demand that Assange should take part in a Swedish investigation is "unreasonable," he added.

The Australian national had spent seven years inside the embassy to avoid arrest and extradition to Sweden.

Three other cases of alleged sexual assault against Assange were dropped in 2014 due to the Swedish statute of limitations.