June 3, 2019 / 2:28 PM / a month ago

Swedish court rejects Assange detention request over rape allegation

UPPSALA, Sweden (Reuters) - A Swedish court on Monday rejected a request from prosecutors for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to be detained in absentia over a 2010 rape allegation.

FILE PHOTO: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gestures during a news conference at the Ecuadorian embassy in central London August 18, 2014. REUTERS/John Stillwell/File Photo

Assange, an Australian national, is currently serving a 50-week sentence in Britain for skipping bail after spending seven years holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden. He denies the rape accusation.

Monday’s ruling means the Swedish prosecutor cannot at this stage request his extradition from Britain. The United States has already requested Assange’s extradition on conspiracy charges. If Britain were to grant that request before Sweden makes its own claim, Assange will be sent to the United States.

Another factor pushing the Swedish prosecutor to act quickly is that the statute of limitations on the alleged rape runs out in August 2020.

However, defense lawyer Per Samuelson argued that Assange’s imprisonment in Britain meant there was no flight risk.

“He is in prison for half a year at least, and he is detained on behalf of the United States. So there is no point detaining him in Sweden, too,” Samuelson said.

Swedish prosecutors dropped their rape investigation in 2017 but reopened it after Ecuador rescinded its grant of asylum to Assange in April, allowing British police to arrest him.

“The (rape) investigation continues with interviews in Sweden. I will also issue a European Investigation Order in order to interview Julian Assange,” prosecutor Eva-Marie Persson said in a statement after Monday’s ruling.

“No date has been set yet. We will constantly review the state of the investigation.”

The United States wants Assange extradited on charges relating to the public release by Wikileaks of a cache of secret documents, including assessments of foreign leaders, wars and security matters.

On May 23, U.S. authorities widened the scope of criminal charges against him to include espionage.

Britain’s interior minister will have the final say on whether to extradite Assange to Sweden, the United States or neither.

Reporting by Anna Ringstrom, Niklas Pollard and Simon Johnson; Editing by Gareth Jones

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