- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 1, 2010

STOCKHOLM (AP) — A senior Swedish prosecutor reopened a rape investigation against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Wednesday, the latest twist to a puzzling case in which prosecutors of different ranks have overruled each other.

Mr. Assange has denied the allegations and suggested they are part of a smear campaign by opponents of WikiLeaks — an online whistle-blower that has angered Washington by publishing thousands of leaked documents about U.S. military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The case was dismissed last week by Eva Finne, chief prosecutor in Stockholm, who overruled a lower-ranked prosecutor and said there was no reason to suspect that Mr. Assange, an Australian citizen, had raped a Swedish woman who had reported him to police.

The woman’s lawyer appealed the decision. Director of Public Prosecution Marianne Ny decided to reopen the case Wednesday, saying new information had come in on Tuesday.

“We went through all the case material again, including what came in, and that’s when I made my decision,” to reopen the case, Ms. Ny told the Associated Press by phone.

She declined to say what new information she had received or whether Mr. Assange, who was questioned by investigators on Monday, would be arrested.

An arrest warrant issued Aug. 20 was withdrawn within 24 hours amid the back-and-forth between prosecutors.

Ms. Ny said “it’s not entirely uncommon” that such reversals take place in Sweden, in particular regarding allegations of sex crimes.

Ms. Ny also decided that another complaint against Mr. Assange should be investigated on suspicion of “sexual coercion and sexual molestation.” That overruled a previous decision to only investigate the case as “molestation,” which is not a sex offense under Swedish law.

Investigators have not released details about either case, though a police report obtained by the AP shows both women had met Mr. Assange in connection with a seminar he gave in Stockholm on Aug. 14. The report shows the women filed their complaints together six days later.

Wikileaks made headlines around the world July 25 when it released tens of thousands of pages of secret U.S. documents about Afghanistan.

Mr. Assange is seeking legal protection for WikiLeaks in Sweden, one of the countries where the group says it has servers. The Swedish Migration Board has confirmed that Mr. Assange has applied for a work and residence permit in the Scandinavian country.

Mr. Assange did not immediately respond to the rape case being reopened, and his defense lawyer Leif Silbersky didn’t answer calls seeking comment.

WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson said the group backs Mr. Assange.

“We hope that he will clear his name and meanwhile the WikiLeaks organization is going on with its endeavors,” Mr. Hrafnsson told AP.

WikiLeaks says it intends to publish 15,000 more Afghan war documents in coming weeks, a disclosure that U.S. officials say could endanger innocent people or confidential informants.

Claes Borgstrom, a lawyer who represents both women, welcomed the decision Wednesday.

“This is a redress for my clients, I have to say, because they have been dragged through the mud on the Internet, for having made things up or intending to frame Assange,” Mr. Borgstrom said.

Mr. Borgstrom had previously dismissed rumors that the sex allegations were part of a conspiracy against Assange, saying “There is not an ounce of truth in all this about Pentagon, or the CIA, or smear campaigns, nothing like it.”

Associated Press writers Karl Ritter in Stockholm and Ian MacDougall in Oslo, Norway, contributed to this report.

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