Swedish prosecutor reviewing witness accounts in Assange case

FILE PHOTO: Placards depicting Julian Assange are seen outside of Westminster Magistrates Court in London, where a case hearing for U.S. extradition of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was held on June 14, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah Mckay/File Photo

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - The Swedish prosecutor investigating a rape allegation against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said on Monday she had interviewed seven witnesses, including two not previously heard, but had yet to determine how to proceed in the case.

Assange is serving a 50-week sentence in Britain for skipping bail after spending seven years in the Ecuadorean embassy in London to avoid being extradited to Sweden over a 2010 rape allegation which he denies.

The Swedish prosecutor, Deputy Director of Public Prosecution Eva-Marie Persson, faces a deadline in the case with the statute of limitations set to expire in August 2020.

“We have mainly re-interviewed those individuals who were interviewed in 2010, although two of the persons interviewed have not previously been interviewed,” she said in a statement.

“Once we have analyzed the interviews, I will decide how to proceed with the case. The investigation may then be discontinued or I may decide to conduct further inquiries.”

If Assange is charged and convicted in Sweden, he could face up to four years in prison. The Australian has said he resisted extradition to Sweden over fears he could later be transported to the United States.

U.S. authorities have requested Assange’s extradition on 18 counts, including conspiracy charges and violating an espionage law. He could spend decades in prison if convicted.

A Swedish court rejected a formal request from the prosecutor for Assange to be detained in absentia, a necessary step toward any extradition request, saying an investigation could proceed without a detention order.

“If I make the assessment that the next step is to interview Julian Assange, I will issue a European Investigation Order, in which case I shall write to the British authorities with a request to conduct an interview,” Persson said.

Reporting by Niklas Pollard; Editing by Robert Birsel