The extraordinary case of Julian Assange
Sweden may have withdrawn its European Arrest Warrant against the WikiLeaks' founder but the UK police is still after him, says Ben Keith
So, Sweden has withdrawn a European Arrest Warrant requesting Julian Assange’s extradition but the WikiLeaks founder nevertheless remains in the Ecuadorian embassy. What is going on?
I thought it was about whether he committed rape and sexual assault in Sweden?It is – but he has tried to make it all about WikiLeaks. He has also managed to run down the Swedish legal clock and two of the allegations became time barred in 2015. So it is just about one rape. Exactly how or whether he did it would be the subject of a trial in Sweden.
Why have they given up? The Swedish prosecutor has decided for the moment to give up. She has said that Assange is entitled to have the investigation dealt with in a fair time period, which is of course true, unless you deliberately hide in an embassy. If he stays there until 2020 then the investigation becomes time barred and can’t proceed. Perhaps in light of the bizarre UN committee recommendation that he was arbitrarily detained they decided it wasn’t worth it.
So he’s innocent? Not necessarily – but he has thus far successfully avoided having a trial about whether he is guilty or innocent of rape and sexual assault by making his case about the US and not about the allegations in Sweden. One would hope that if he had a trial in Sweden and was innocent, he would be acquitted, but it seems that won’t happen.
Isn’t that unfair on the victim? You might think so.
But if he has asylum from Ecuador, why does he not just go there?Assange has a special type of asylum which allows him to seek refuge in the embassy. He doesn’t necessarily have the right to live or hide in Ecuador. Also, the UK police will arrest him as soon as he leaves (if he ever does) the embassy.
What, to send him to the US? No, to take him to Westminster Magistrates’ Court to face the charge of breaching his bail back in 2012. Given that he stuck two fingers up to the UK court you can expect him to receive some time in an actual prison rather than the Ecuadorian embassy.
The US is after him, I hear?
Well, there is some quite strong speculation that the US does want to extradite him – as yet there has been no extradition request for him though. That is what he has said for years but no requests have ever materialised.
So it’s all over now and we can stop talking about it?Not quite – he still hasn’t left the embassy and since the UK police have been waiting for five years to arrest him, it seems unlikely that they will give up now.
Ben Keith is a barrister at 5 St Andrew’s Hill specialising in extradition law