An attorney for Julian Assange asked Swedish prosecutors to drop a long-standing arrest warrant against their client Wednesday so the WikiLeaks publisher may once and for all take refuge in Ecuador in light of a looming U.S. indictment.
Mr. Assange’s Swedish attorney, Per Samuelson, filed the request in Stockholm District Court on Wednesday in the face of a rekindled Justice Department probe centered around WikiLeaks and its publication of classified U.S. government and military documents.
Sweden should reassess the arrest warrant, Mr. Samuelson told Swedish news agency TT, “on the basis that there is a real risk that the U.S. wants him extradited.”
Prosecutors in Stockholm have long sought Mr. Assange’s arrest in order to question him over allegations of rape dating back to 2010, but fear of being ultimately extradited to the U.S. has precluded the WikiLeaks chief from surrendering to Swedish authorities. Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa granted political asylum to Mr. Assange in 2012, but a constant police presence and guaranteed arrest have prevented him from exiting its embassy in London ever since.
“If they rescind the detention order, there is a possibility he can go to Ecuador and then he can use political asylum in an entire country,” Mr. Samuelson told Reuters on Wednesday. “Given that the U.S. is obviously hunting him now, he has to make use of his political asylum and it is Sweden’s duty to make sure that Sweden is no longer a reason for that fact he has to stay in the embassy.”
The Trump administration has rekindled a WikiLeaks probe initiated by the Justice Department in 2010, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions said last month that arresting Mr. Assange is a “priority”.
“If the prosecutor wants to continue with her pre-trial investigation and bring charges that’s completely fine,” Mr. Samuelson added. “The difference is it gives Assange the chance to leave Ecuador’s embassy and travel to Ecuador.”
Neither Swedish nor American prosecutors have formally filed charges against Mr. Assange. Speaking to The Washington Times on Wednesday, the WikiLeaks publisher acknowledged it’s quite possible he’ll be nonetheless arrested and extradited upon existing the Ecuadorean Embassy.
The “U.K. refuses to confirm or deny as to whether it has already received a U.S. extradition warrant,” Mr. Assange told The Washington Times.
Indeed, Mr. Samuelson told The Times that British authorities may elect to apprehend Mr. Assange even if Sweden stops seeking his arrest. British authorities have previously said they’d take Mr. Assange into custody for having violated bail conditions by entering the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2010.
“Sweden must do what it is obliged to do: Stop keeping him inside the embassy,” Mr. Samuelson told The Times on Wednesday. “If and what U.K. … may do is another bridge.”
Britain doesn’t confirm extradition requests until the person sought is taken into custody, The Guardian reported last month.
With regards to WikiLeaks, Mr. Sessions last month said the Justice Department “will seek to put some people in jail.” Asked for his opinion afterwards, President Trump said charging the WikiLeaks chief was “OK with me.”
Mr. Samuelson expects Sweden’s high court will consider the latest request in the next few weeks, Reuters reported. It’s rejected similar requests from Mr. Assange in the past.