In a move that may break the legal and diplomatic deadlock in the case involving alleged sexual assault claims against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Swedish prosecutors have agreed to question him over the charges in London.
This has been a long-standing demand of Mr. Assange and his legal team. Mr. Assange has refused to be questioned in Sweden as he fears extradition to the United States where he is wanted for the publication on WikiLeaks of thousands of classified US military and diplomatic documents.
Mr. Assange has denied all assault claims. Following an international arrest warrant against him issued by Sweden in 2012, he accepted Ecuador’s offer of asylum at their embassy, where he has been living under virtual house arrest since 2012.
A lawyer for Mr. Assange, Per Samuelson, welcomed the move. “He is willing to co-operate fully now in conducting this interrogation - this is a great victory for him,” he told BBC World Service.
The Swedish lead prosecutor Marianne Ny is less enthusiastic. “My view has always been that to perform an interview with him at the Ecuadorean embassy in London would lower the quality of the interview,” she said in a statement, BBC reports.
“Now that time is of the essence, I have viewed it therefore necessary to accept such deficiencies in the investigation and likewise take the risk that the interview does not move the case forward.”
The alleged crimes against Mr. Assange are subject to statutes of limitation, and this may be a reason for the U-turn by the prosecutors. Under this law, the prosecutors only have until August 2015 to question him about some of the allegations against him, although they have till 2020 to investigate the most serious allegation of rape.
In fact, Sweden’s own Court of Appeal criticised the prosecutors in November 2014 for failing to explore “alternative avenues” to speedup the case.
“I suspect that this is related directly to the Supreme Court currently considering the case and the bad publicity associated with the failure of the prosecutor to interview Julian in London,” a person source close to Mr. Assange told The Hindu. “As you know, this failure was commented upon by both the U.K. government, who requested the prosecutors to come, and by some Swedish authorities.”
Journalist John Pilger, a member of Mr. Assange’s support team, called the Swedish prosecutor decision “demonstrably cynical” and her behaviour “scandalous”. Mr. Pilger said that the prosecutor, in finally agreeing to what Mr. Assange and his legal team have been asking her to do for more than four years, has ‘wasted four and a half years of Mr. Assange's life.’