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May 26, 2017

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Swedish prosecutor drops rape investigation of WikiLeaks' Assange

STOCKHOLM — Sweden's top prosecutor said Friday she is dropping an investigation into a rape claim against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after almost seven years.

The announcement means the outspoken WikiLeaks leader no longer faces sex crime allegations in Sweden, although British police say he is still wanted in Britain for jumping bail in 2012.

Assange is still inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London where he has lived for nearly five years. Assange has indicated concerns that he may face indictment in the United States for his role at the helm of the WikiLeaks.

"This is a total victory for Julian Assange. He is now free to leave the embassy when he wants. We have won the Assange case. He is of course happy and relieved. He has been critical that it has lasted that long," Per E Samuelsson, his lawyer in Sweden, told Swedish Radio.

Samuelsson was not immediately available for further comment.

The Swedish Prosecution Authority said Friday that chief Marianne Ny "has decided to discontinue the investigation." Ny said she will call back the European arrest warrant on Assange.

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

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. He has been there ever since, fearing that if he is in custody he might ultimately be extradited to the United States.

It is not known if U.S. officials are seeking Assange's arrest because of a possible sealed indictment.

Last month, President Donald Trump said he would support any decision by the Justice Department to charge Assange.

WikiLeaks tweeted after the Swedish announcement: "UK refuses to confirm or deny whether it has already received a US extradition warrant for Julian Assange. Focus now moves to UK."

Samuelsson, the lawyer in Sweden, told Swedish Radio he had been in touch with Assange via text message and the Australian had written, "Serious, Oh My God."

British police said despite Sweden's decision to drop a rape investigation, Assange still faces arrest if he leaves Ecuador's embassy in London.

The Metropolitan Police says there is a British warrant for Assange's arrest after he jumped bail in 2012, and the force "is obliged to execute that warrant should he leave the embassy."

But it adds that Assange is now wanted for a "much less serious offense" than the original sex crimes claims, and police "will provide a level of resourcing which is proportionate to that offense."

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 US$17.5 million at the time).

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