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New moves to resolve Swedish standoff with WikiLeaks founder Assange

New moves to resolve Swedish standoff with WikiLeaks founder Assange
Fugitive Wikileaks founder Julian Assange addressing the media from a balcony of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London on Aug. 19, 2012. (Kerim Okten / European Pressphoto Agency)

After five years of eluding prosecution on sexual assault accusations and an extradition warrant from the United States, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is about to see Sweden's ability to prosecute him on three of the four allegations expire under the statute of limitations.

Assange, a 44-year-old Australian wanted for the massive leak of U.S. military and diplomatic files in 2010, has been holed up since June 2012 in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, beyond the reach of either Swedish or U.S. authorities.

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Sweden and Ecuador reportedly agreed on Monday to discuss "mutual legal assistance" that could allow a Swedish prosecutor to interview the fugitive at the embassy, Swedish Justice Ministry spokeswoman Cecilia Riddselius told journalists in Stockholm.

No agreement has been reached yet, and Swedish justice authorities are unlikely to gain access to Assange before two alleged instances of sexual molestation and one of unlawful coercion expire next week. A fourth accusation of rape remains in effect for another five years, and both prosecutors and Assange have expressed eagerness to resolve the last allegation on which the Swedish arrest warrant is based.

The case stems from a visit to Stockholm by Assange in 2010, when two women accused him of sexual assault. Assange denies the accusations and has said he has been evading Swedish authorities for fear of being extradited to the United States if he returns to Sweden for questioning.

Sweden also worked out an agreement recently with British authorities to be allowed to meet with Assange at the embassy, which is guarded by London police round-the-clock in the event the fugitive strays outside the residence that has the legal status of Ecuadorean territory.

British officials -- along with those from the U.S. and Sweden -- are eager to have the asylum case resolved: The Independent newspaper of Britain reported in February that the government has had to spend more than $15 million to provide extra security around the embassy since Assange took refuge there.

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