LONDON — Swedish prosecutors on Friday dropped their investigation into a rape allegation against Julian Assange, closing a nearly seven-year legal saga that led the WikiLeaks founder to seek sanctuary at the Ecuadoran Embassy in London.
But British police said that Assange still faces arrest for jumping bail if he walks out of diplomatic protection, which he claims is needed to keep him from being extradited to the United States to face charges of disclosing confidential military and diplomatic documents.
The Swedish Prosecution Authority said in a statement that Sweden’s director of public prosecution, Marianne Ny, “today decided to discontinue the investigation” into a rape claim against Assange.
Assange has disputed the rape allegation. He also argued that he risked being extradited by Sweden to the United States and tried for espionage.
He took refuge in the embassy in 2012.
Assange’s lawyer, Per Samuelson, said in an emailed statement that Assange had “proved his innocence.” The case was closed, he wrote, “because an innocent man proved he was not guilty!”
But Swedish officials said the decision only drops the case and is not a ruling on Assange’s guilt or innocence.
The attorney for Assange’s accuser said it was a “scandal” that the case was not tried in court.
“My client is shocked, and no closure decision can get her to change that Assange has exposed her to a rape,” said the attorney, Elisabeth Massi Fritz.
WikiLeaks said the focus would now shift to Britain. “U.K. refuses to confirm or deny whether it has already received a U.S. extradition warrant for Julian Assange,” the anti-secrecy organization tweeted.
The silver-haired activist made a rare appearance on the balcony of the embassy late Friday afternoon with a clenched fist in the air.
“Today is an important victory,” he told the throng of journalists camped outside the embassy, a stone’s throw from the Harrods department store.
He said that a “legal conflict” with the United States and Britain was continuing, and that a “proper war was just commencing.”
“Seven years without charge, while my children grew up without me. That is not something I can forgive. It is not something that I can forget,” he said.
The London Metropolitan Police made it clear in a statement that there remains an outstanding arrest warrant for Assange: “Westminster Magistrates’ Court issued a warrant for the arrest of Julian Assange following him failing to surrender to the court on the 29 June 2012. The Metropolitan Police Service is obliged to execute that warrant should he leave the Embassy.”
The maximum penalty for breaching bail is up to a year in prison or a fine.
The police also recognized that Assange is now “wanted for a much less serious offense” and said they would “provide a level of resourcing which is proportionate to that offense.”
It remains unclear whether there is a standing U.S. extradition order for Assange. The policy of Britain’s Home Office is to neither confirm nor deny extradition orders until a person has been arrested in relation to an order.
Last month, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he was stepping up efforts to arrest Assange as part of a broader fight against those who leak secrets into the public domain.
President Trump was highly supportive of WikiLeaks during his campaign for office in 2016, when the website released hacked emails from the account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chief, John Podesta. Trump once told a rally: “We love WikiLeaks. They revealed a lot.”
But when the Associated Press asked Trump last month about making the arrest of Assange a priority, the president said, “I am not involved in that decision, but if Jeff Sessions wants to do it, it’s okay with me.”
In 2015, British police ended a multimillion-pound policing operation that included round-the-clock guarding of the Ecuadoran compound. But they also said that they would beef up their “covert tactics” and that Assange would be arrested if he left the embassy.
In explaining why Sweden was dropping the investigation, Ny told a news conference in Stockholm that “all possibilities to advance the investigation have now been exhausted” and that the legal proceedings could continue only if Assange were present in Sweden.
But she said that if Assange returns to Sweden before the statute of limitations lapses in 2020, an investigation could be reopened.
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