Rape inquiry dropped, Assange still in embassy

WikiLeaks founder faces possibility of U.S. extradition, charges

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LONDON — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange no longer is the subject of an active rape investigation in Sweden, but he remains holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London facing an unclear future because of uncertainty over whether American authorities will try to get him handed over next.

Sweden’s top prosecutor dropped a long-running inquiry into a rape claim against Assange on Friday, saying there was no way to detain or charge him “in the foreseeable future” because of his protected status inside the embassy.

Prosecutor Marianne Ny said she could not judge whether the 45-year-old Australian native was guilty or innocent because the investigation had been thwarted. Ny said the case could be reopened if Assange comes to Sweden before the statute of limitations expires in 2020.

British police said they would arrest Assange if he leaves the embassy on the relatively minor charge of jumping bail, but the more severe threat is a possible sealed U.S. indictment against him.

The sun-starved WikiLeaks provocateur, looking healthy if pale, emerged Friday afternoon to address the media in the open air of the embassy’s balcony. He said the day marked an “important victory,” but noted that he still could be prosecuted by the United States.

Assange also lashed out at Sweden for taking seven years to investigate allegations he maintained were baseless. His children had grown up without him, he said.

“That is not something I can forgive, or forget,” he said, claiming he had suffered a “terrible injustice” while living under house arrest or hidden away inside the embassy without ever being charged with a crime.

Despite the welcome news from Sweden, police in London said Friday that Assange is still wanted there for jumping bail in 2012. More serious are the possible charges he faces in the United States for WikiLeaks’ aggressive publication of thousands of pages of classified government documents.

Assange said his legal team would reach out to British authorities to try to find a way forward, and he said he would be “happy” to speak with the U.S. Department of Justice despite its threats against him.

WikiLeaks has repeatedly infuriated U.S. officials with the widespread release of sensitive secret documents related to military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and diplomatic relations around the world.

WikiLeaks also had a role in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign when it published emails written by Hillary Clinton’s campaign officials.

U.S. and British officials Friday declined to say if the United States has requested Assange’s extradition.

Ecuador’s foreign minister, Guillaume Long, tweeted Friday that Britain “must now grant safe passage” to Assange. The South American country has granted him asylum, but it is not clear how Assange would travel there without the permission of British authorities.

Assange has spent nearly five years inside the Latin American country’s London embassy, but he seemed robust and defiant in his brief balcony appearance. He did not take shouted questions from the reporters assembled outside and would not say if he plans to leave the embassy located in the posh Knightsbridge neighborhood.

The day began with the dramatic announcement in Sweden that the rape investigation was being suspended. But some experts said the development would put him in an even more precarious legal situation, if the U.S. has a sealed indictment for his arrest.

U.S. President Donald Trump said last month he would support any decision by the Justice Department to charge Assange.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has suggested that the arrest of Assange could be an American priority, saying last month the U.S. was “stepping up our efforts on all leaks.”