07:57, May 19 46 0 theguardian.com

2017-05-19 07:57:03

 

Can Julian Assange now walk free? What happens next

What has happened to Julian Assange?

Swedish prosecutors have dropped their rape investigation into the WikiLeaks founder. Marianne Ny, Sweden’s director of public prosecutions, said she had decided to discontinue the inquiry into the allegation dating from 2010, when the country issued a European arrest warrant for him.

Why has the investigation been dropped?

Ny said Sweden had exhausted the possibilities for investigating the allegations and were therefore obliged under Swedish law to discontinue the inquiry. But, she said, it could be reopened if Assange returns to Sweden before the statute of limitations ends in 2020. She also confirmed that Sweden had withdrawn its request for a European arrest warrant against him. Another allegation of sexual assault made by a second Swedish woman was dropped by Swedish authorities in 2015 after the statute of limitations expired. The UK government said on Friday it had no involvement in Sweden’s decision to drop the investigation.

Does this mean Assange can walk out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London?

No, because he still faces arrest over breaching UK bail conditions, and the possibility of extradition to the US. Assange sought refuge in Ecuador’s embassy in London in 2012, after UK courts ruled that Sweden’s extradition request was lawful. Assange has always said he believes he faces extradition to the US because WikiLeaks published classified information. But the Metropolitan police have maintained that Assange would be arrested if he left the embassy.

That position has not changed. Scotland Yard said on Friday that it is still obliged to execute a warrant issued by Westminster magistrates court for the arrest of Assange after his breach of bail conditions in June 2012. It said in a statement:

While Mr Assange was wanted on a European arrest warrant for an extremely serious offence, the MPS response reflected the serious nature of that crime. Now that the situation has changed and the Swedish authorities have discontinued their investigation into that matter, Mr Assange remains wanted for a much less serious offence. The MPS will provide a level of resourcing which is proportionate to that offence. The priority for the MPS must continue to be arresting those who are currently wanted in the capital in connection with serious violent or sexual offences for the protection of Londoners.

The offence of breaching bail carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison.

Does the US want Assange to be extradited?

Almost certainly, but the Home Office never confirms whether an extradition request has been made or received until the person in question has been arrested. Last month, the US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, said the arrest of Assange was a “priority” after the CIA director, Mike Pompeo, described WikiLeaks as a “hostile intelligence service” and a threat to US national security.

US federal prosecutors are understood to be considering bringing charges against Assange over a number of the website’s publications since 2010. This could potentially lead to an extradition request for Assange. “We’ve already begun to step up our efforts and whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail,” Sessions said.

Will the European arrest warrant against Assange be lifted?

Yes, the paperwork on this is expected to be completed on Friday. The Home Office said the warrant will be formally withdrawn in UK courts now the Swedish investigation has been dropped.

Has Assange been questioned by Swedish prosecutors?

Yes, this took place at the embassy last November in the presence of Sweden’s chief prosecutor, Ingrid Isgren. Assange later released his full testimony to Swedish prosecutors, maintaining that he was “entirely innocent” of the allegation.