WASHINGTON – Sweden has decided to drop its seven-year rape investigation into WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Director of Public Prosecutions Marianne Ny filed a request to the Stockholm District Court on Friday to revoke his arrest warrant, apparently ending a five-year stand-off.
Assange, 45, an Australian, has lived in the Ecuadorean embassy in London since 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden.
He feared being extradited to the U.S. if sent to Sweden. He could face trial in the U.S. for leaking hundreds of thousands of secret military and diplomatic documents.
Juan Branco, a lawyer representing Assange, said he would now seek political asylum in France.
But London’s Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) said Friday that it it is still obliged to arrest Assange on a 2012 charge of failing to surrender to a court, should he leave the Ecuadoran embassy.
Assange’s Swedish lawyer, Per Samuelson, said the prosecutor’s decision represented “a total victory” for his client.
At a news conference on Friday, Ny said that by remaining in the embassy, Assange had evaded the European Arrest Warrant that would have extradited him to Sweden.
Without the possibility of Assange coming to court “in a reasonable timeframe,” there was no point continuing the probe, she said.
But she added: “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.”
A lawyer for Assange’s accuser denounced the Swedish prosecutor’s decision.
“It is a scandal that a suspected rapist can escape justice and thereby avoid the courts… my client is shocked and no decision to [end the case] can make her change that Assange exposed her to rape,” said attorney Elisabeth Fritz.
Assange has always denied the rape allegation, which stems from a WikiLeaks conference in Stockholm in 2010. He said sex with the woman who made the complaint was consensual.
WikiLeaks tweeted Friday that the “focus now moves to the UK,” saying the UK had “refused to confirm or deny whether it has already received a US extradition warrant for Julian Assange.”
The Metropolitan Police Service in London issued a statement saying, in part, that “Assange remains wanted for a much less serious offence. The MPS will provide a level of resourcing which is proportionate to that offense.”
London police had kept a 24-hour watch outside the embassy, ready to arrest Assange if he left. But in October 2015, the police announced they were ending the continuous surveillance, citing the strain on resources.
In their statement, the MPS said it would “not comment further on the operational plan.”
British Prime Miinister Theresa May told reporters that the police – not the government – will decide Assange’s fate.
Last month, Samuelson had filed a new motion calling for his client’s arrest warrant to be lifted so he could “fly to Ecuador and enjoy his political asylum.” Samuelson cited a comment by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the arrest would be a priority.”
WikiLeaks came under fire during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign for releasing hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee. Assange has acknowleged they were timed to be released to impact the maximum damage to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign.