The Sydney Morning Herald has obtained Swedish court documents that reveal that top Swedish prosecutor Marianne Nye has abruptly quit the handling of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s case. The Swedish Prosecution Authority wants Assange extradited to Sweden to face questioning relating to sexual assault allegations made by two women he met in Sweden in August 2010. A more junior prosecutor, Ingrid Isgren, has now replaced Nye, although the reasons for the change have not yet been revealed. The case has stalled since Assange began living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, having been granted political asylum.
Media attention on the case has waned recently. While the sexual assault allegations and the U.S. investigation of WikiLeaks are ostensibly separate issues, they are linked because they both centre on Assange. The highly politicized nature of his fate has complicated the investigation by the Swedish authorities, resulting in the present stalemate.
Nye’s departure comes amid a period of turmoil for the Swedish Prosecution Authority’s efforts to extradite Assange. One of Assange’s two accusers, Anna Ardin, recently sacked her lawyer Claes Borgstrom, claiming that he was more focused on talking to the media than talking to her and that she had lost faith in him as her legal representative.
These recent developments come just before Swedish Supreme Court judge Stefan Lindskog is due to deliver a keynote public lecture on "the Assange affair, and freedom of speech, from the Swedish perspective" at the University of Adelaide. Assange has condemned Lindskog’s plans, claiming that it is “absolutely outrageous” for a Supreme Court judge to publicly comment "on a case the court expected or was likely to judge." Greg Barns, a barrister spokesman for the Australian Lawyers Alliance, echoed Assange's concerns, arguing that Lindskog’s plans to publicly comment on the case "gives great currency to the belief that Mr Assange's case in Sweden has been heavily politicized."
The case against Assange has taken many twists and turns since a warrant for his arrest was first issued by the Swedish Prosecutor’s Office on August 20 2010. The warrant was then withdrawn the following day, before Nye announced she was reopening the case. Swedish authorities later issued an international arrest warrant for Assange. A British judge then ruled that Assange should be extradited to Sweden for questioning, a ruling which Assange’s legal team has unsuccessfully challenged, with the initial ruling being upheld by the UK Supreme Court. Assange has not been formally charged with any offence and denies the allegations against him.
Assange rightly fears that if he goes to Sweden for questioning, he will be extradited to the U.S. to be prosecuted for his role in the publication of the diplomatic cables and military files leaked by US soldier Bradley Manning, who is being aggressively prosecuted by the U.S. government as part of its war on whistleblowers. A Department of Justice spokesperson for the Eastern District of Virginia recently confirmed that the U.S. government’s investigation into WikiLeaks "remains ongoing."
According to Assange’s legal team, he has been offering to be questioned by Swedish prosecutors since August 2010, either at the Swedish embassy in London, at a police station, or by video link. Swedish prosecutors have apparently declined to take up this offer. With UK police set to arrest Assange if he leaves the Ecuadorian embassy – they even allegedly threatened to enter the embassy to arrest him – the first two scenarios would now seem to be off the table. The third scenario, questioning via video link, remains open. Ecuador also made an offer to Swedish prosecutors to question Assange inside the Ecuadorian embassy, an offer that was reportedly rejected.
Let me be clear: the sexual assault allegations against Assange are serious and he should definitely face questioning by Swedish authorities in relation to them. While these allegations and the actions of WikiLeaks are separate issues and should be treated as such, they are intertwined because of the possibility of extradition to the U.S. The highly politicised nature of Assange’s fate – the UK organisation Women Against Rape has even argued that "the pursuit of Assange is political" – has made efforts to investigate the allegations against him incredibly complex.
The current stalemate is unlikely to end anytime soon, despite Ecuadorian diplomats raising the issue with the British Labour party. While Assange has shown that he is willing to be questioned, he is also determined not to risk extradition to the U.S. by going to Sweden. In light of this, questioning via video link or at the Ecuadorian embassy seems like the only plausible way to advance the investigation given the present circumstances.