STOCKHOLM – Agence France-Presse
Swedish prosecutors on March 13 offered to question WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in London over rape allegations, providing a possible breakthrough in the long-running case.
One of Assange’s lawyers welcomed the offer saying it would be a first step in clearing his client who has been holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London since 2012.
“He will accept” to be questioned in London, attorney Per Samuelsson told AFP, adding that his client was “happy” about the breakthrough.
“We are cooperating with the investigation,” he said.
Up to now, Swedish prosecutors have refused to go to London to question Assange over the allegations.
But on Friday, the prosecutor in charge of the case said she was changing her stance as the statute of limitations on some of the alleged crimes will become effective in August.
“Marianne Ny has today made a request to Julian Assange’s legal representatives whether Assange would consent to being interviewed in London and have his DNA taken via a swab,” her office said in a statement.
“My view has always been that to perform an interview with him at the Ecuadorian embassy in London would lower the quality of the interview, and that he would need to be present in Sweden in any case should there be a trial,” Ny said.
“This assessment remains unchanged,” she said. But “now that time is of the essence, I have viewed it therefore necessary to accept such deficiencies to the investigation and likewise take the risk that the interview does not move the case forward,” she said.
Sweden issued an arrest warrant for Assange in 2010 over charges made by two women of rape and molestation.
A lawyer for one of the women who has levelled the accusations against the WikiLeaks founder welcomed the prosecutors’ offer.
“Assange did not make himself available to be interviewed in Sweden… That’s why it is necessary to change the location of the interview,” her attorney Elizabeth Fritz told AFP in an email.
Assange, 43, has refused to return to Sweden to answer the allegations, which he has vehemently denied.
He says he believes that Stockholm would extradite him to the US to be tried for his role in WikiLeaks’ publication of classified US diplomatic, military and intelligence documents.
WikiLeaks has been targeted by the US authorities since its release in 2010 of 500,000 secret military files on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and 250,000 diplomatic cables.
A former army intelligence analyst, Chelsea Manning, is currently serving a 35-year prison term for leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks.
In 2012 Assange took refuge in Ecuador’s embassy in London, where he has been since at a cost of 11,000 euros ($10,300) each day, according to his lawyers.
The situation has remained essentially stagnant since Assange arrived, and after a lower Swedish court rejected in November his appeal of the 2010 warrant for his arrest, Assange’s attorney took the motion to Sweden’s Supreme Court in February.
“We are asking the court to give us access to the phone text messages that the two plaintiffs exchanged, and which (prosecutors) possess,” Samuelsson said,saying he was certain contents of the messages would prove Assange’s innocence.