Prosecutors in Sweden have reopened the rape case against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the request of the alleged victim a month after Assange was forcefully removed from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and jailed in the United Kingdom, prosecutors announced Monday. The move could make it harder for the U.S. to extradite Assange on hacking-related charges.
Assange, who from 2012 until April had been living in the embassy to avoid extradition on rape charges, is currently serving a 50-week prison sentence in London for jumping bail in that case seven years ago. The Swedish prosecutors have said they will seek extradition after Assange has finished that sentence. The U.K. will then have to decide whether to extradite Assange to Sweden or the United States.
The rape and sexual assault allegations stem from Assange’s visit to the country in 2010. Swedish prosecutors filed the preliminary charges in 2010, but when it sought Assange for questioning, Assange’s legal team said it believed he would be passed along to the U.S. on charges related to WikiLeaks. Assange then sought political asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy. The rape allegation couldn’t be pursued while he was living in the embassy, and eventually Sweden dropped the charges.
But on Monday, Eva-Marie Persson, Sweden’s deputy director of public prosecutions, said in a press conference that “there is still a probable cause to suspect that Assange committed a rape” and that it was “my assessment that a new questioning of Assange is required.”
The rape charge expires in August 2020—a deadline that could be missed if Assange is extradited to the U.S. An alleged sexual misconduct charge against Assange was already dropped when the statute of limitations expired. Assange insists he is innocent on both charges.
In the U.S., Assange faces charges of hacking into a Pentagon computer in connection to the 2010 publication of a trove of Iraq war documents and diplomatic cables leaked by Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. While Assange is not being charged for the publication of the leaked documents, prosecutors have argued that he broke the law when he helped Manning crack a password on Defense Department computers in order for her to gain access to the classified documents. For the charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, he would face a maximum of five years in prison.
But the U.K., in weighing whether to extradite Assange to the U.S., could become less inclined to prioritize the United States’ extradition request if it finds the charges to be politically motivated or if it believes the U.S. will charge Assange with additional crimes related to his publication of U.S. secrets. Assange had been under investigation for potentially more severe crimes such as espionage, the publication of sensitive government documents, and coordination with Russia after WikiLeaks released thousands of stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman. The emails were obtained by Russian hackers under the supervision of the Russian government for the purpose of influencing the outcome of the 2016 election.