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Sweden: Criminal Rape Investigation of Julian Assange Reopened

(May 24, 2019) On May 13, 2019, the Swedish Prosecution Authority announced that it would reopen the investigation into the accusations of rape against Julian Assange. (Press Release, Åklagarmyndigheten, Förundersökningen i Assangeärendet återupptas [Swedish Prosecution Authority, Preliminary Investigation in the Assange Case Reopened] (May 13, 2019); Åklagarmyndigheten, Beslut [Decision] AM-131226-10 (May 13, 2019), Swedish Prosecution Authority website.)

Background

In December 2015, Sweden and the Republic of Ecuador made an agreement on mutual legal help in criminal cases. (Avtal med Ecuador om ömsesidig rättslig hjälp i brottmål [Agreement with Ecuador on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Cases] Sveriges internationella överenskommelser [SÖ, Sweden’s International Agreements] 2015:30.) Under that agreement, an interrogation (förhör) of Julian Assange was conducted by an Ecuadorian prosecutor at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Swedish police and prosecutors were present. (Beslut AM-131226-10.)

In 2017 the Swedish Prosecution Authority decided to discontinue the investigation because there was “no reason to believe the decision to surrender [Assange] to Sweden can be executed in the foreseeable future.” (Åklagarmyndigheten, Decision 19 May 2017 (unofficial English translation); see also Elin Hofverberg, Sweden: Swedish Prosecutors Discontinue Assange Investigation, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (June 2, 2017).)

Following Assange’s arrest by British authorities, the counsel for the plaintiff (målsägandens ombud) requested that the preliminary investigation (förundersökning) of the rape charges be resumed and that the investigation (utredning) be continued.

The Prosecution Authority therefore reconsidered the reasons for discontinuing the investigation and found that the following events now made it possible for Assange to be transferred to Sweden: the UK authority’s arrest of Assange; his sentencing to 50 weeks of imprisonment in the UK; and the request by the United States to extradite Assange to the United States, requiring a formal request to that effect  presented no later than June 14, 2019. (Beslut AM-131226-10.)

The Prosecution Authority believes that several avenues for the continued investigation exist. For example, Swedish law allows for an interview to take place via video link, which would allow UK authorities to keep Assange in the UK while the Swedish prosecutor interviewed him from Sweden. Such a procedure, however, would require Assange’s consent (samtycke). (LAG OM EN EUROPEISK UTREDNINGSORDER [ACT ON AN EUROPEAN ARREST WARRANT] (SVENSK FORFATTNINGSSAMLING [SFS, SWEDISH CODE OF STATUTES] 2017:1000), Riksdagen [Parliament] website; Beslut AM-131226-10.)

In consideration of the circumstances mentioned above, the Prosecution Authority now believes that the conditions for a continuation of the investigation and completion of the investigation are feasible. (Beslut AM-131226-10.)

The Prosecution Authority also noted that all the conditions for an arrest warrant still apply. Assange is still a suspect, on probable cause, in the Swedish rape case (a crime with a prescribed sentence of more than one year). In addition, as Assange is now under arrest in the United Kingdom, the conditions for the fulfillment of a European Arrest Warrant can be met. (Beslut AM-131226-10.)

However, the Prosecution Authority in its decision noted that if UK authorities are faced with competing arrest warrants from Sweden and the United States, it is the British authorities that would decide to which country Assange should be delivered. (Beslut AM-131226-10.)