Monday, June 1, 2020 11:01:23 AM
Swedish prosecutors have reopened an investigation into a rape allegation made against Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange.
The inquiry has been revived at the request of the alleged victim's lawyer.
Assange, who denies the charges, has avoided extradition to Sweden for seven years after seeking refuge at the Ecuadorean embassy in London in 2012.
The 47-year-old was evicted last month and sentenced to 50 weeks in jail for breaching his bail conditions.
He is currently being held at Belmarsh prison in London.
Swedish prosecutors originally decided to drop the rape investigation two years ago, saying they felt unable to take the case forward while Assange remained inside the Ecuadorean embassy.
"I have today decided to reopen the investigation," Sweden's deputy director of public prosecutions, Eva-Marie Persson, announced on Monday. "There is still probable cause to suspect that Mr Assange committed rape."
His release, and the decision to reopen the inquiry, is likely to raise the question of which extradition request should take precedence: that of Sweden or the US.
The US wants to extradite Assange from the UK over his alleged role in the release of classified military and diplomatic material in 2010.
Australian-born Assange faces a charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion in the US. He is accused of participating in one of the largest ever leaks of government secrets, which could result in a prison term of up to five years.
In a statement, Wikileaks said the reopening of the case would "give [Assange] a chance to clear his name".
"There has been considerable political pressure on Sweden to reopen their investigation, but there has always been political pressure surrounding this case," its editor-in-chief, Kristinn Hrafnsson, said in a statement.
Assange was accused of rape and other sexual offences against two women following a Wikileaks conference in Stockholm in 2010. He has always denied the allegations, saying the sex was consensual.
He also faced investigations for molestation and unlawful coercion, but these cases were dropped in 2015 because time had run out.
Prosecutors have decided to reopen the rape case before the statute of limitations expires in August 2020.
On Saturday, the alleged victim's lawyer, Elizabeth Massi Fritz, said Assange's arrest came as a shock but "what we have been waiting and hoping for since 2012 has now finally happened".
She said: "No rape victim should have to wait nine years to see justice be served."
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