The Ecuadorian government is to step up efforts to allow Julian Assange to continue his asylum in its country after a seven-year investigation in Sweden against the WikiLeaks founder was suddenly dropped.
Director of Public Prosecutions Marianne Ny said she had decided to “discontinue” the investigation into an alleged sex offence, although it is unlikely to lead to Mr Assange immediately leaving the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has been living for almost five years.
Scotland Yard said it was obliged to execute a warrant issued by Westminster Magistrates’ Court for the arrest of Mr Assange following his failure to surrender to the court in June 2012, should he leave the embassy. Mr Assange tweeted: “Detained for 7 years without charge while my children grew up and my name was slandered. I do not forgive or forget.”
Asked if Britain would now support a request to extradite Mr Assange to the United States, Prime Minister Theresa May said: “We look at extradition requests on a case-by-case basis.” Speaking at a Conservative campaign event in Edinburgh, Mrs May added: “In relation to Julian Assange, any decision that is taken about UK action in relation to him were he to leave the Ecuadorian Embassy would be an operational matter for the police.”
The Crown Prosecution Service said that following the Swedish authorities’ decision to drop the investigation, a European Arrest Warrant against him was discharged at Westminster Magistrates’ Court. Mr Assange was questioned six months ago in the presence of Swedish officials, who faced criticism for the length of time it has taken to make a decision.
Ecuador’s foreign minister Guillaume Long said: “Ecuador regrets that the Swedish Prosecutor delayed more than four years in carrying out this interview. “This unnecessary delay was despite the repeated insistence from the Ecuadorian government – ever since the granting of asylum in 2012 – that this interview was not only possible but that Ecuador would facilitate its carrying out in our Embassy.
“Ecuador was clear from the outset that it would fully co-operate with the Swedish justice system. As I once again stated in a letter to the Swedish state on May 8, Ecuador has regularly criticised the conduct of the Swedish Prosecutor in this case as wholly unacceptable and which has led to unnecessary delays in progressing this case.
“Given that the European Arrest Warrant no longer holds, Ecuador will now be intensifying its diplomatic efforts with the UK so that Julian Assange can gain safe passage in order to enjoy his asylum in Ecuador.”
Mr Assange believes he faces extradition to the United States for questioning over the activities of WikiLeaks if he leaves the embassy.
Scotland Yard said: “Westminster Magistrates’ Court issued a warrant for the arrest of Julian Assange following him failing to surrender to the court on June 29 2012. The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) is obliged to execute that warrant should he leave the Embassy.
“Whilst Mr Assange was wanted on a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) 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 Metropolitan Police stopped its round the clock presence outside the Embassy in October 2015 amid controversy over the escalating cost of the exercise – believed to be more than £12 million.
Friday’s development follows a letter sent to the Swedish government by the government of Ecuador saying there had been a “serious failure” by the prosecutor, including a “lack of initiative” to complete inquiries.
The letter raised developments in the United States since the election of Donald Trump as president, including a speech by CIA director Mike Pompeo describing WikiLeaks as a “hostile intelligence service”.
Recent public declarations such as this constitute an “obvious risk” for Mr Assange, said the letter.
Mr Assange originally faced three sex allegations, all of which he denied. He was on bail when he arrived at the Ecuador Embassy in Central London almost five years ago. Ms Ny said the motive for her decision was that there is no reason to believe the decision to surrender Mr Assange to Sweden can be executed in the foreseeable future.
She told a press conference in Stockholm that the investigation could be reopened if Mr Assange returns to Sweden before the allegation against him elapses under Swedish law in August 2020.
“If he, at a later date, makes himself available, I will be able to decide to resume the investigation immediately,” she said.
“As a result of the decision to discontinue the investigation, the prosecutor has reversed the decision to detain him in his absence and withdrawn the EAW (European Arrest Warrant). “In view of the fact that all prospects of pursuing the investigation under present circumstances are exhausted, it appears that it is no longer proportionate to maintain the arrest of Julian Assange in his absence.
“Consequently, there is no basis upon which to continue the investigation.”