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Sweden Reopens Investigation Into Rape Allegations Against Julian Assange

May 13, 2019
Originally published on May 13, 2019 5:16 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Sweden has reopened its investigation into rape allegations against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and Sweden will seek his extradition. The Swedes put their investigation on hold after Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Last month, Ecuador revoked its diplomatic protection, and Assange is now in British custody serving a sentence for jumping bail. The U.S. is already seeking his extradition on charges of conspiracy to steal classified U.S. government data.

For more on the Swedish case against Assange, we are joined by reporter Maddy Savage in Stockholm. Hi there.

MADDY SAVAGE, BYLINE: Hi there.

SHAPIRO: Remind us what this case alleges Julian Assange did in Sweden.

SAVAGE: This case dates back almost 10 years. And Julian Assange is accused of raping a woman here. She accused him of that at the time, and he didn't want to come to Sweden to face questioning because he was worried that he would end up being extradited to the U.S.

Swedish authorities have tried to question him while he was inside the embassy, struggled to do so. They managed to get access to him once. And the case was actually dropped two years ago because they said it was simply too difficult to question him. But now it's been reopened.

SHAPIRO: And what's the government saying about the reason for reopening the case now?

SAVAGE: Well, it's - the prosecutors are saying that, essentially, they've got easier access to Julian Assange. He's no longer holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy. He's in custody in the U.K., so it's more feasible. I mean, they haven't proven him to be guilty or innocent, but the evidence hasn't changed. It wasn't due to a lack of evidence that they decided not to question him. It was pure logistics.

SHAPIRO: As we mentioned, the U.S. is trying to extradite him, as is Sweden. Is there a chance that there could be competing claims against him here?

SAVAGE: Yeah. The big question is who's going to get the chance to speak to him first? And Swedish prosecutors at their press conference - they basically said, we're going to let the U.K. decide, but it could well be that it's down to the home secretary in the U.K., the interior minister, to decide which of the countries he thinks has a more pressing case. Should it be the rape charges, or should it be the hacking classified military secrets in the U.S.?

SHAPIRO: And there are also time considerations here. Tell us about the statute of limitations.

SAVAGE: Yeah. In Sweden, there's a certain time limit for different kinds of crimes. And for rape, it's 10 years. So there's about a year to go before that statute of limitation limit is reached, which means there really is a time squeeze on authorities.

You might remember there was another woman who also accused Julian Assange of sexual assault around the same time, and that case was put to rest because there was a five-year limit on that, and there's no chance that that can be reopened. And I think because this case has been so prominent, so in the public spotlight, for it to have come so far and for this time limit to be reached without him even being questioned would've been a big deal. But now he's more accessible. The clock is really ticking.

SHAPIRO: Have Julian Assange's lawyers responded today?

SAVAGE: Yeah, there's been a response from both sides. Julian Assange's Swedish lawyer has spoken, saying he was very surprised that prosecutors decided to open the case - very disappointed. The lawyer for the woman accusing Julian Assange of rape has said she's very pleased that prosecutors have decided to dust off their files and look into this case again. And she hopes that it will be a chance for her victim to get justice. But, of course, we must remember that Julian Assange has always denied the allegations against him, and he will continue to fight this case.

SHAPIRO: That's reporter Maddy Savage in Stockholm, Sweden. Thank you.

SAVAGE: Thanks for having me.

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