13 Aug 2015

Julian Assange to remain in Ecuadorean embassy until 2020?

Time runs out for Swedish prosecutors to investigate some of the allegations against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. But he is not expected to leave the Ecuadorean embassy any time soon.

On Thursday Sweden’s Director of Public Prosecution Marianne Nye announced that it has has dropped its investigation into some of the sex allegations against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as they are now “time barred.”

The prosecutor said: “Julian Assange, on his own accord, has evaded prosecution by seeking refuge in the Embassy of Ecuador. As the statute of limitation has run on some of the crimes, I am compelled to discontinue the investigation with respect to these crimes.”

She added: “I regret having to say that this means there will be no closure with regard to these events, as we have not been able to interview the suspect.”

Julian Assange, who has been living at the Ecuadorian embassy in London for over three years after being granted political asylum, said he was “extremely disappointed” that the Swedish prosecutor has “managed to avoid hearing his side of the story entirely.”

Mr Assange has consistently denied the allegations against him, and believes if he goes to Sweden he will be extradited to the US and charged over the release of classified documents by WikiLeaks, the controversial transparency campaign group he founded.

Given that he does still face being investigated over a charge of rape, he is not expected to be leaving the embassy just yet, prompting the British government to announce that it is to make a formal protest to Ecuador over the ongoing stand-off.

‘Ecuador must recognise that its decision to harbour Mr Assange more than three years ago has prevented the proper course of justice.’ Hugo Swire, Foreign Office minister

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister of State, Hugo Swire said “Ecuador must recognise that its decision to harbour Mr Assange more than three years ago has prevented the proper course of justice. As a result, some of the serious sexual allegations against him will now expire.”

“I have instructed our Ambassador in Quito to reiterate to Ecuador that the continuing failure to expedite the Swedish Prosecutor’s interview, and to bring this situation to an end, is being seen as a growing stain on the country’s reputation.”

The Metropolitan police told Channel 4 News that costs of guarding the Embassy are in excess of £11.1m and rising.

Why will investigations stop on some claims but not others?

This is because of the Swedish law of limitation which for certain offences means that the suspect has to be charged within a specific time frame of the incident allegedly occuring – similar to the Statute of Limitations in the United States.

Two counts of sexual molestation and one of unlawful coercion are said to have occured on 13-14 August 2010 and 18 August 2010.

Under Swedish (and English) law, rape is a more serious offence. Under the Statute of Limitations in Swedish law, a charge would have to be made within ten years of the offence being allegedly commited – as it stands, Mr Assange has not even been interviewed by the Swedish Prosecution Authority (SPA).

The allegation of rape by a different woman dates to 17 August 2010, so the SPA has until 2020 to pursue the claim.

Under English law, there is no Statute of Limitations for crimes such as rape or indecent assault. Recent high-profile cases included the conviction of Rolf Harris, found guilty of twelve counts of indecent assault between 1968 and 1986, and Dave Lee Travis, who was found guilty of one count of indecent assault from 1995.

In a bid to end the stalemate with Mr Assange, Swedish prosecutors changed their stance in March and said they would come to London to interview Mr Assange in the embassy, a move which was publicly welcomed by Mr Assange.

The interview, due to take place in June, never went ahead – according to the Swedish press, prosecutors were unable to obtain the necessary permissions from the Equadorian government.

On Monday, the SPA told legal blogger Jack of Kent that they are still unable to obtain permission.

The SPA says Ecuador is asking for a pre-condition that it is illegal for them to give – as such the situation is unlikely to end soon.

So what happens now?

Given Swedish prosecutors have until August 2020 to continue their investigation into the more serious accusation of rape, in theory, Mr Assange could remain in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for five more years.

A spokesperson for the SPA told Channel 4 News this morning that the situation remains unchanged in pursuing the rape accusation.

As Julian Assange has breached his bail conditions, the Metropolitan police are still on guard outside the embassy. In a statement to Channel 4 News this morning, they said estimated costs up until April 2015 have been £11.1m and today’s news has no impact on their operation, which will remain ongoing.