Prosecutors in Sweden reopened a rape case against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a month after he was forcibly removed from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and after a U.S. extradition request over computer hacking charges.
The decision complicates U.S. efforts to try Assange for leaking classified documents.
A sexual assault investigation into Assange was dropped two years ago because prosecutors were not able to continue their case while he was holed up in the embassy. It was reopened Monday at the request of one of the alleged victims.
The incident allegedly took place 10 years ago. Assange maintains he is innocent.
As part of the probe, prosecutors renewed an extradition request for Assange, raising a competing claim that could frustrate attempts to see him stand trial in the U.S. It is not clear which extradition request will take priority, said Eva-Marie Persson, Sweden’s deputy director of public prosecutions, during a news conference in Stockholm.
"The outcome of this process is impossible to predict," she said.
Anand Doobay, a London-based lawyer who specializes in extradition law, said the decision over what happens to Assange will be decided in court and it could take months if not years and may ultimately reside with Britain's secretary of state. The statute of limitations on the rape investigation in Sweden runs out in August 2020.
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One of the factors that would be considered is if the U.S.'s request is politically motivated and whether Assange would face the death penalty or be charged with additional crimes related to his publication of U.S. military and diplomatic secrets.
The stolen material, according to the U.S. Justice Department, includes 90,000 war reports related to Afghanistan, 400,000 from the Iraq War, 800 Guantanamo Bay detainee assessments and 250,000 State Department cables.
Assange believes it was in the public interest to publish them because they reveal the behavior of the U.S. government and how it operates in foreign military adventures.
The U.S. alleges that Assange was assisted by Chelsea Manning, then a soldier in the U.S. Army, in cracking a password stored on U.S. Department of Defense computers.
Manning served nearly seven years of a 35-year sentence for theft and espionage for helping to deliver classified documents to WikiLeaks. Manning's sentence was later commuted by former President Barack Obama and she was released in 2017. Manning recently spent another 62 days in jail for refusing to testify before a grand jury in connection with the Assange case. Manning could return to jail this week.
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Assange faces up to five years in a U.S. prison if convicted of conspiracy charges.
Assange was arrested last month inside the Ecuador's Embassy after the South American country revoked his political asylum. He sought asylum in the embassy in June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he was wanted for questioning over rape and sexual assault allegations. At the time, Assange's legal team believed that if he were extradited to Sweden he would subsequently be extradited to the U.S. A case of alleged sexual misconduct was dropped when the statute of limitations expired.
The Australian national, 47, has already started serving a 50-week sentence in a British prison for skipping bail and seeking refuge in Ecuador's Embassy.
"There are significant legal obstacles for the U.S. case," said Daniela Nadj, a professor of law at Queen Mary, University of London, adding that "many questions need to be answered." Among them: If Sweden decides to renew its extradition claim whether a rape allegation should take precedence over a hacking one.
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The U.S. extradition hearing began in a London court on May 2.
The next court date related to that case is on May 30.
Kristinn Hrafnsson, WikiLeaks’ editor-in-chief, said in a statement that the Swedish decision to reopen a rape case against Assange "will give Julian a chance to clear his name." Hrafnsson said that Persson, the Swedish prosecutor, had been under "intense political pressure" to reopen the case. He also said case has been "mishandled."
Elisabeth Massi Fritz, a lawyer for the woman accusing Assange of rape, who has not been publicly identified, said Monday in a press conference that her client has "demonstrated strength" in deciding to pursue her case after so many years and she hopes that justice will be served before the statute of limitations expires.
Fritz said the decision by Swedish authorities "signals that no one stands above the law" and that "the legal system in Sweden doesn’t give special treatment to anyone."
She said her client "feels great gratitude."
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Sweden prosecutors reopen Julian Assange rape probe, seek extradition