Swedish prosecutors drop rape probe against Assange

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange speaks from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on 2016. He has sought asylum there since 2012 when Sweden filed an extradition request on the allegation of rape — an allegation Swedish prosecutors said Frid

Sweden has dropped a rape investigation into WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, the Swedish prosecutor's office announced on Friday.

In order to avoid extradition, Assange has been living in the Ecuadorean embassy to the United Kingdom in London since 2012.

He has always denied the claims, which he feared would see him extradited to the United States and tried over the leaking of hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. military and diplomatic documents.

Earlier Swedish Chief Prosecutor Marianne Ny said the rape investigation could not proceed because of legal obstacles.

In a statement issued here, the Swedish Prosecution Authority said that Marianne Ny "has discontinue the investigation" against the Australian computer programmer.

"Westminster Magistrates' Court issued a warrant for the arrest of Julian Assange following him failing to surrender to the court on the 29 June 2012", the department said in a statement.

Assange, 45, took refuge in Ecuador's embassy in London in 2012 to escape extradition to Sweden to answer questions about sex-crime allegations from two women. The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) is obliged to execute that warrant should he leave the Embassy.

Friday was the deadline for the Swedish prosecution to send a request to Stockholm District Court in the Assange case.

Assange added that WikiLeaks would continue regardless of "the threats towards me and my staff" before hailing the release of Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst who provided classified information to WikiLeaks in 2010.

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Assange has spent almost five years inside the Latin American country's London embassy, but he seemed robust and defiant in his brief balcony appearance. He said the day marked an "important victory", but noted that he still could be prosecuted by the United States.

Manning was released on Wednesday after spending seven years in a us military prison for passing the documents to WikiLeaks. Ny said the case could be reopened if Assange comes to Sweden before the statute of limitations expires in 2020.

Julian Assange says Sweden's decision to drop a rape inveatigation against him is "an important victory for me and for the United Nations human rights system".

Officials said in a statement that, under Swedish law, investigations must be completed as quickly as possible and must be dropped "when a prosecutor has exhausted the possibilities".

A lawyer for the woman who alleged she was raped by Assange said "it's a scandal that a suspected rapist can avoid the judicial system and thus avoid a trial in court".

The Australian, who has lived inside the embassy for nearly five years, said the "road is far from over", adding it was "extremely regretful" he was still being threatened with arrest if he leaves the embassy. "Focus now moves to U.K".

Mr Assange originally faced three sex allegations, all of which he denied. Samuelsson was not immediately available for comments.

Police kept up round-the-clock guard outside the embassy until December 2015, when the operation was scaled back, in part because of the cost, which had exceeded 11 million pounds (over $17.5 million at the time). London's police service appeared to hint on Friday that arresting Assange on his remaining charge of bail jumping was not a top priority.

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