Inquiry into rape accusations from 2010 was abandoned in 2017 while Assange was inside Ecuadorian embassy
Swedish prosecutors are to reopen a 2010 rape case against Julian Assange, the country’s deputy director of prosecutions has announced.
Eva-Marie Persson said at a press conference the inquiry, which was shelved in 2017 because Assange refused to leave the Ecuadorian embassy in London, would be restarted.
The woman who has accused him called for the investigation to be picked up again after the WikiLeaks founder was evicted from the embassy and arrested by police last month.
Ms Persson said the inquiry had been reopened because Assange’s circumstances had changed and his extradition to Sweden was now possible.
“There is still a probable cause to suspect that Assange committed a rape,” she told a press conference in Stockholm. “It is my assessment that a new questioning of Assange is required.”
After conducting this new interview and once Assange has served his current 50-week prison sentence in Britain, Ms Persson said her office would issue a European arrest warrant to bring him to Sweden.
Assange has consistently denied the allegations and insisted he only had consensual sex with the two women who came forward nine years ago.
It was while he was on bail fighting efforts to extradite him to Sweden to face the accusations that Assange fled to the embassy, where he lived for the next seven years.
The alleged victim’s lawyer, Elisabeth Massi Fritz, said her client was deeply grateful for the prosecutor’s decision.
“Today we got great news,” Ms Fritz told reporters. She said it sent the message that “no one stands above the law [and] the legal system in Sweden doesn’t give a special treatment to anyone”.
WikiLeaks said the new investigation would give Assange an opportunity to prove his innocence.
The website’s editor-in-chief, Kristinn Hrafnsson, said in a statement: “Since Julian Assange was arrested on 11 April 2019, there has been considerable political pressure on Sweden to reopen their investigation, but there has always been political pressure surrounding this case.
“Assange was always willing to answer any questions from the Swedish authorities and repeatedly offered to do so, over six years.
“Its reopening will give Julian a chance to clear his name.”
Swedish lawyer for Assange Per Samuelsen said he was “very surprised” by the decision to reopen the rape case and described it as an “embarrassment” for Sweden.
However, he insisted to the Swedish broadcaster SVT Assange was keen to assist the police in their inquiries and was only afraid of extradition to the United States.
Ms Fritz had demanded Swedish police be given the chance to reinvestigate the WikiLeaks founder after his sudden expulsion from the embassy.
“We are going to do everything we possibly can to get the Swedish police investigation reopened so that Assange can be extradited to Sweden and prosecuted for rape,” she said. ”No rape victim should have to wait nine years to see justice be served.”
Last month Assange was sentenced to almost a year in prison for skipping bail in 2012.
Ms Persson also told reporters she believed the Swedish investigation could begin while Assange remained in HMP Belmarsh in south London, provided he agreed to be interviewed.
Since he was evicted from the embassy, the US has also announced it wants to extradite Assange so he can face computer hacking charges.
Ms Persson said it was for the UK authorities to decide which extradition request would be given priority and this process was “impossible to predict”.
Assange has long resisted any efforts to send him to face trial in the US, arguing his life would be at risk and the charges amount to the criminalisation of legitimate journalism.