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Sweden Ruling Brings Assange Impasse to Fore

(CN) - For more than four years, Swedish prosecutors have insisted that WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange travel to Stockholm rather than accept his offers to question him in the United Kingdom. Their stunning reversal of that policy on Friday comes three days after the Swedish Supreme Court read the prosecutors the riot act, Assange's lawyer Michael Ratner told Courthouse News in an exclusive interview.

"The reason the prosecutor responded is that we've been going through the Swedish courts and the Swedish courts have been slapping her wrist," he said.

On Tuesday, the high court issued a two-paragraph notice requesting "an opinion from the prosecutor-general concerning Assange's appeal, especially regarding the investigatory procedure and the principle of proportionality."

Though seemingly unremarkable, the language of that request refers to the stagnation of investigation since Assange accepted asylum inside the Ecuadorean embassy in London, Ratner - who serves as Assange's Manhattan-based attorney for the Center of Constitutional Rights - said.

"He's been in that embassy for almost 1,000 days now, and you haven't questioned him is what they're saying," Ratner said, referring to the Swedish high court. "What's been breaking this case is the unreasonableness and the recalcitrance of the prosecutor to actually carry out the most fundamental parts of an investigation."

Days after WikiLeaks started publishing U.S. embassy cables leaked by Chelsea Manning, Interpol released a "red notice" in November 2010 revealing that Swedish law enforcement wanted to question Assange about rape and sexual misconduct allegations by two women.

Assange and his lawyers have long accused Swedish investigators of doing the bidding of U.S. prosecutors eager to nail him under the Espionage Act for the WikiLeaks disclosures.

For years, Sweden has rejected two proposals by Assange's lawyers to break that impasse: Either assure Assange that Stockholm would not seek Assange's extradition to the United States, or allow prosecutors conduct their interrogation inside the United Kingdom.

Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny cited the statute of limitations for her office's sudden U-turn, the BBC reported.

But Ratner noted that Ny still has until August to file charges on three of the four allegations. This week's Sweden Supreme Court's ruling better explains her office's shift, he said.

"Assuming she gets there to question him, I'm not convinced there will be sufficient evidence to file charges in the case," Ratner commented. "I think there's also a strong argument at this point that he's done the time being detained that he'd have to do in Sweden, and so there's going to be that issue hanging out there. There's also going to be the issue that Sweden has refused to guarantee that they won't send him to the United States after the proceedings in Sweden."

Australian journalist John Pilger, acting as a spokesman for an Assange advocacy group, called the Swedish prosecutor's reversal "demonstrably cynical" and "scandalous" in a statement.

"In finally agreeing to come to London to interview Assange - something Assange and his legal team have been asking her to do for more than four years - she has waited until just before Sweden's statute of limitations nullifies her patently threadbare case against him and kept Assange trapped in the U.K. while the U.S. continues to pursue its unprecedented espionage case against Assange and WikiLeaks," Pilger said.

A district court ruling issued last week in Washington suggested that the investigation into WikiLeaks remains ongoing.

Police monitoring of the Ecuadorean embassy in London all these years has cost "millions of pounds of British taxpayers' money," Pilger noted.

While many have speculated whether the recent developments in Sweden would break the stalemate, Ratner said that Washington would play more of a role in his client's fate.

"Sweden is not Julian Assange's problem," he said. "His problem is the United States."

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