Sweden performs U-turn on Assange questioning

2:58 min

Swedish prosecutors on Friday offered to travel to London to question WikiLeaks-founder Julian Assange over rape allegations, a U-turn which could bring a breakthrough in the case.

The prosecutor in charge of the case, Marianne Ny, , who has always insisted on questioning Julian Assange in Sweden, after seeking his arrest in 2010, said Friday, that she was no longer opposed to travelling to London to question the WikiLeaks founder, as some of the alleged offences will reach their statute of limitations in August.

Marianne Ny said in a statement that she wants to perform a DNA swab test on Mr. Assange, and is awaiting his consent and a response from his legal representatives. 

"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 in the future. This assessment remains unchanged. 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, particularly as there are no other measures on offer without Assange being present in Sweden", prosecutor Marianne Ny writes in the press release.

One of Assange's lawyers welcomed the prosecutors' proposal, saying the interview would be a first step in clearing his client who took refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden and has been there ever since.

"He will accept" to be questioned in London, lawyer Per Samuelsson told AFP, adding that Assange was "happy" about the development.

"We are cooperating with the investigation," he said. Julian Assange fears that if he is sent to Sweden he could then be extradited to the US to face charges over leaking material.

Britain's Foreign Office pledged its help, saying: "As we have made clear previously, we stand ready to assist the Swedish prosecutor, as required."

Ecuador hit out at the prosecutors for their delay in agreeing to question Assange at its embassy, according to AFP.

"If they had accepted Ecuador's offer to question him 1,000 days ago, it would have saved us all a lot of money and trouble," Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino wrote on Twitter.

"On Monday Assange will mark 1,000 days inside our embassy in London. From the first day we have offered to let (prosecutors) question him and they didn't do it," he tweeted.

Sweden issued an arrest warrant for Assange in 2010 following allegations from two women in Sweden, one who claimed rape and another who alleged sexual assault.

A lawyer for one of the women urged Swedish authorities to question Assange as soon as possible.

"For my client, possible charges must come before August," her lawyer Claes Borgström told AFP, who noted the statute of limitations in Sweden is five years for sexual assault and 10 years for rape.

Elizabeth Fritz, a lawyer for the other woman, told AFP in an email: "Assange did not make himself available to be interviewed in Sweden... That's why it is necessary to change the location of the interview."

The cost to the British taxpayer of the round-the clock, police guard outside Ecuador's embassy in London, has been put at 14.6 million euros, according to WikiLeaks.