Swedish authorities announced Monday that they would reopen an investigation into a rape allegation against Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, who is serving a prison term in Britain for jumping bail as the United States seeks his extradition over accusations that he tried to assist in a huge breach of classified data.
The United States has already begun trying to extradite Assange, an effort that was expected to be prolonged and complex even before Monday’s announcement .
British officials will determine which case takes precedence, Swedish prosecutors said, adding that if Assange were eventually extradited to Sweden, he could not be sent to the United States without the consent of Britain.
The investigation stems from an accusation in August 2010 made by a Swedish woman, who said Assange had sexually assaulted her.
Assange was removed from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London last month and promptly arrested, seven years after seeking refuge to avoid extradition in an earlier Swedish investigation into the same case. He was then sentenced to 50 weeks for jumping bail.
On Monday, Eva-Marie Persson, Sweden’s deputy director of public prosecutions, announced the decision to reopen the Swedish investigation at a news conference in Stockholm. She said authorities there were acting because there was still probable cause to suspect that Assange had committed the crime.
The decision to reopen the investigation is not equivalent to making a decision to indict Assange, she said, but a European arrest warrant will be issued so that Swedish authorities can take him into custody and question him.
Per Samuelsson, Assange’s Swedish lawyer, said he was surprised by the decision to reopen the investigation.
“It’s not proportionate,” Samuelsson said. “To force him to concentrate on this old investigation is highly unreasonable.”
Swedish authorities began investigating the WikiLeaks founder in 2010 after two women accused him of assaulting them during separate sexual encounters while he was visiting Stockholm.
Swedish authorities issued a European arrest warrant in seeking his extradition from Britain for questioning over “suspicion of rape, three cases of sexual molestation and illegal coercion.”