(CN) — Swedish prosecutors on Tuesday said they are dropping a rape investigation against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who could face extradition to the United States for his involvement in exposing alleged war crimes committed by the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Swedish prosecutors said the investigation was dropped because the evidence against Assange has become “weakened” by the lapse of time since the alleged rape and molestation took place in August 2010.
Assange has denied the accusations against him and claimed that facing the justice system in Sweden would lead to his extradition to the United States. To avoid prosecution, in 2012 he sought diplomatic protection in London and was granted refuge at the Ecuadorean embassy.
But in April this year, after a U.S.-friendly president took over in Ecuador, Assange was kicked out of the embassy and arrested by British authorities.
Assange is in Belmarsh prison serving a 50-week sentence for breach of bail conditions. He is fighting extradition to the United States.
In dismissing the case in Sweden, a lead prosecutor said the allegations against Assange appeared credible.
“I would like to emphasize that the injured party has submitted a credible and reliable version of events,” said Eva-Marie Persson, Sweden’s deputy director of public prosecution. “However, my overall assessment is that the evidential situation has been weakened to such an extent that there is no longer any reason to continue the investigation.”
Swedish investigators resumed investigating Assange in May after he was kicked out of the Ecuadorean embassy.
Assange, 48, is reportedly suffering serious health problems while in custody in London.
He is fighting extradition to the United States, where prosecutors accuse him of playing a role in “one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States.”
In the United States he faces a charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion and violating the Espionage Act. If convicted, he could face decades in prison.
A hero to many free-speech advocates, the Australian-born internet activist has long been viewed as a scourge by U.S. officials. His nonprofit WikiLeaks was behind the release of millions of pages of documents related to U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, detentions at Guantánamo Bay, and Hillary Clinton’s emails.
The U.S. indictment alleges that Assange conspired in March 2010 with Chelsea Manning, who at the time was an intelligence analyst for the U.S. Army, to leak secret documents.
In a statement, Kristinn Hrafnsson, the editor-in-chief at WikiLeaks, welcomed the decision by Swedish prosecutors.
“Let us now focus on the threat Mr. Assange has been warning about for years: the belligerent prosecution of the United States and the threat it poses to the First Amendment,” Hrafnsson said.
(Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.)