Sweden upholds Wikileaks founder Assange’s sex assault warrant

Photo credit: espenmoe / Foter / CC BY
Photo credit: espenmoe / Foter / CC BY

It’s been some time since I last heard anything about Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who has been trying to dodge rape and sexual molestation charges brought against him by two women in Sweden in 2010. Assange maintains that he is innocent of the charges, and refuses to go to Sweden because, he says, he is afraid he’ll be extradited to the US where he faces prosecution over the leak of secret government documents. I find it not at all surprising that Assange has racked up 7 million pounds in legal fees. – FD

Copyright 2014 Bloomberg.

Niklas Magnusson and Niclas Rolander

(Updates with comments from lawyer in fifth paragraph, appeals court judge from 10th paragraph.)

Nov. 20 (Bloomberg) — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange lost a second bid to overturn a Swedish arrest warrant in a sexual assault probe amid a fight to leave Ecuador’s embassy in London where he sought asylum more than two years ago.

The Court of Appeal in Stockholm said in a statement today that Assange “is suspected on probable cause of crimes including rape” and that “there is a great risk that he will evade legal proceedings or punishment.”

Assange sought refuge with Ecuador in June 2012, after exhausting options in U.K. courts to avoid extradition to face questioning on allegations of rape and sexual molestation during a 2010 visit to Sweden. The Australian national, who says he’s innocent and hasn’t been charged with a crime, has refused to return to Sweden, citing risks he will be extradited to the U.S. over the release of secret documents by WikiLeaks.

“There is no reason to set aside the detention solely because Julian Assange is in an embassy and the detention order cannot be enforced,” the court said. “The Court of Appeal considers that Julian Assange’s stay at the embassy shall not count in his favor since he can himself choose to bring his stay there to an end.”

Per E. Samuelson, a lawyer for Assange in Stockholm, said he would appeal the ruling to Sweden’s Supreme Court.

“We are disappointed, but we see the light in the tunnel,” Samuelson said in a phone interview.

Leaving ‘Soon’

Assange said on Aug. 18 that he is planning to leave the embassy “soon.” Assange, who risks arrest as soon as he steps outside the building, said the ordeal has caused him heart and lung problems and 7 million pounds ($11 million) in legal costs.

Assange is accused in Sweden of failing to use a condom with one woman and having sex with another while she was asleep. The women, both supporters of WikiLeaks, let him stay at their homes during a speaking tour in 2010.

The Court of Appeal also criticized the prosecutors, saying their failure “to examine alternative avenues is not in line with their obligation — in the interests of everyone concerned — to move the preliminary investigation forward.” The court said that “the investigation into the suspected crimes has come to a halt.”

Appellate Court Judge Niklas Waagnert said it is now up to the prosecutors to decide how to pursue the case.

Embassy Interview?

“One way could be to interview Julian Assange at the embassy,” Waagnert said in a phone interview.

The prosecutors have argued that Assange must come to Sweden for questioning, because of the nature of the crimes, and because he needs to be in Sweden for a possible trial. Waagnert said while the typical procedure is for a suspect to be questioned in Sweden, unusual cases require alternative solutions.

“The situation is what it is, and it is not moving forward,” Waagnert said. “It’s in the interest of everyone involved, including the plaintiffs, to move the investigation forward.”

Samuelson described the ruling as “half-hearted,” and said it could be interpreted as a warning to prosecutors that “if they don’t do anything now, the detention order will be withdrawn the next time.”

WikiLeaks, which started in 2006, leaks classified documents under a philosophy of increasing government transparency. The group drew condemnation from the U.S. for posting thousands of documents on its website, including U.S. communications about foreign governments and military efforts during wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. One U.S. soldier, Private Bradley Manning, is serving as long as 35 years in prison for providing the group with classified information.

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