Prosecutors in Sweden said today they were dropping the rape investigation into WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and repealing the arrest warrant, but British police still plan to detain him if he leaves his refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London.
The Swedish director of public prosecutions, Marianne Ny, said in Stockholm that it was not possible to proceed with the long-running preliminary investigation into a rape allegation related to a visit Assange made to Sweden in August 2010, calling it "regrettable".
Assange has always denied the allegations. Ny said the decision was not a pronouncement regarding Assange''s possible guilt or innocence.
"We have won the case," Assange''s Swedish defence lawyer, Per E Samuelson, told Swedish Radio.
Elisabeth Massi Fritz, a Swedish attorney representing the alleged rape victim, said it was "a scandal that a suspected rapist can avoid justice and a trial in court".
Her client was "shocked" and "had not changed her view that Assange raped her," the attorney said in an emailed statement to dpa.
Assange has been holed up inside the Ecuadorean embassy in London since 2012. He fled there after he lost a legal battle in Britain against extradition to Sweden, fearing he would be handed over to US authorities due to the publication of top secret diplomatic cables.
That threat was still looming, according to a tweet by WikiLeaks: "UK states it will arrest Assange regardless & refuses to confirm or deny whether it has already received an extradition request from the US.
"British police said Assange will be arrested if he leaves the Ecuadorean embassy. Officers are still "obliged to execute" an arrest warrant issued in Britain in June 2012, despite the Swedish announcement, the Metropolitan Police said.
But it suggested that now that Assange was only wanted for "a much less serious offence" of failing to surrender to a court, it would reduce its level of policing outside the embassy.
No comment on US requesting extradition
The British government declined to comment on speculation that the United States may already have requested Assange's extradition.
"As a matter of long-standing policy and practice, the UK will neither confirm nor deny that an extradition request has been made or received until such time as an arrest has been made in relation to that request," it said.
Asked about Assange's case during an election campaign event, British Prime Minister Theresa May said any decision to detain him would be "an operational matter for the police", adding that her government examines any extradition request "on a case-by-case basis".
Assange was questioned in November at the embassy in London by an Ecuadorean prosecutor, who asked questions prepared by Swedish prosecutors on the allegations. Ny told a news conference at police headquarters in Stockholm that the interview had helped to advance the investigation, but Ecuador''s legislation did not allow them to serve Assange with any formal notification of suspicions.
"My assessment is that the surrender cannot be executed in the foreseeable future," she said. If Assange should return to Sweden before August 2020 when the statute of limitations expires, the Swedish investigation could be reopened, Ny added.
She said the Swedish investigation was not terminated because of costs or pressure from the US. In documents filed with the Stockholm District Court today, Ny wrote that "in view of the fact that all prospects of pursuing the investigation are now exhausted... it becomes less proportionate to maintain the arrest of Julian Assange in his absence via a European Arrest Warrant."
Earlier this month, Assange''s lawyer Samuelson filed a request to lift the 2010 arrest warrant, citing as grounds public statements by US officials saying the United States wanted him arrested.
Assange, an Australian national, has considered the whole Swedish process as a "violation", the attorney added.
Samuelson said he did not know if Assange would leave the embassy building in London and try to go to Ecuador. Three other cases of alleged sexual assault against Assange were dropped in 2014 due to a Swedish statute of limitations.