Sweden's top prosecutor said Friday that she is dropping an investigation into a rape claim against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after almost seven years because there's no possibility of arresting him "in the foreseeable future."
The announcement means the outspoken WikiLeaks leader no longer faces sex crime allegations in Sweden, although British police say he still is wanted in Britain for jumping bail in 2012.
Friday was the deadline for the Swedish prosecution to send a request to Stockholm District Court in the Assange case.
Assange, 45, took refuge in Ecuador's embassy in London in 2012 to escape extradition to Sweden to answer questions about sex crime allegations from two women. He has been there since, fearing that if he is in custody, he ultimately might be extradited to the United States.
"This is a total victory for Julian Assange," Per E Samuelsson, his lawyer in Sweden, told Swedish Radio. "He is now free to leave the embassy when he wants. We have won the Assange case. He is of course happy and relieved. He has been critical that it has lasted that long."
Speaking from the balcony of Ecuador's London embassy Friday, Assange said Sweden's decision to drop the rape investigation against him is "an important victory for me and for the U.N. human rights system." The WikiLeaks founder said his seven-year legal ordeal — which he calls unjust detention — "is not something that I can forgive."
Assange said his battle is not over, and "the proper war is just commencing." Assange believes the United States wants him extradited and arrested in connection with WikiLeaks' publication of classified U.S. documents.
It's not known whether U.S. officials are seeking Assange's arrest because of a possible sealed indictment. Last month, President Trump said he would support any decision by the Justice Department to charge Assange.
WikiLeaks tweeted after the Swedish announcement: "UK refuses to confirm or deny whether it has already received a US extradition warrant for Julian Assange. Focus now moves to UK."
The Swedish Prosecution Authority said chief Marianne Ny "has decided to discontinue the investigation." Ny said she will call back the European arrest warrant on Assange.
Ny told reporters that the WikiLeaks founder had "tried to dodge all attempts at arrest" by British and Swedish authorities. She said prosecutors had been unable to make a full assessment of the case and were not making a finding on whether Assange was guilty of the allegations.
She said the case could be reopened if Assange returns to Sweden before the statute of limitations expires in 2020.
Prosecutors frustrated by Assange's refusal to return to Sweden for questioning eventually came to London to meet with him at the Ecuadorean Embassy last year.
Samuelsson, the lawyer in Sweden, told Swedish Radio he had been in touch with Assange via text message and the Australian had written, "Serious, Oh My God."
British police said that despite Sweden's decision to drop a rape investigation, Assange still faces arrest if he leaves Ecuador's embassy in London. The Metropolitan Police said there is a British warrant for Assange's arrest after he jumped bail in 2012, and the force "is obliged to execute that warrant should he leave the embassy."
But it added that Assange is now wanted for a "much less serious offense" than the original sex crimes claims, and police "will provide a level of resourcing which is proportionate to that offense."
British police kept up an around-the-clock guard outside the embassy until December 2015, when the operation was scaled back, in part because of the cost, which had exceeded 11 million pounds (over $17.5 million at the time).
Assange and WikiLeaks have 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 provocative role in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign when it published emails written by Hillary Clinton campaign officials.
Chelsea Manning, a soldier in the U.S. Army, served seven years in prison for giving classified material to WikiLeaks. She was freed Wednesday, having had her sentence commuted by outgoing President Obama before he left office.
9:15 a.m.: This article was updated with Assange's comments from Ecuador's London embassy.
5:40 a.m.: This article was updated with additional background on the persecution of Julian Assange, as well as WikiLeaks document releases and Chelsea Manning.