Sweden bows, offers to interview Assange in London

WikiLeaks founder Julian AssangeIn a move that could unlock years of stalemate, Swedish prosecutors today offered to travel to Britain to question the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange over allegations of sexual assaults in 2010.

The Swedish officials had previously refused to conduct interviews in London, where Assange has taken refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy since June 2012.

With some of the crimes under investigation set to reach their statute of limitations in August, the officials said that they had changed their minds on prosecuting Assange to the full extent of its laws, and that they had also asked for permission to take a swab of DNA from Assange.

''My view has always been that to perform an interview with him at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London would lower the quality of the interview, and that he would need to be present in Sweden [but] now that time is of the essence, I have viewed it as necessary to accept such deficiencies in the investigation and take the risk that the interview does not move the case forward,'' Marianne Ny, the director of public prosecutions in Sweden, said in a statement today.

Assange is wanted for questioning over allegations of sexual misconduct and rape involving two women he met during a visit to Sweden in 2010.

One of Assange's lawyers, Per Samuelson, welcomed the initiative and suggested that it would most likely be accepted. He said he had spoken to Assange early today.

''This is what we have been asking for, for years, so finally the prosecutor is speaking the same language,'' Samuelson said. ''We are a little irritated that it has taken her so long to do.''

''We received the formal request from the Swedish prosecutor by email,'' he added. ''In that email, there are some preconditions, one of which is that both the Ecuadorean and the United Kingdom authorities approve the request.

''For us, she could come tomorrow, but since she demands that the two countries approve, that could take some time.''

Samuelson added that he thought that both Britain and Ecuador wanted to resolve the situation and would not obstruct an interview.

He also said that the Swedish prosecutor already had access to a sample of Assange's DNA. ''We don't know why she is asking for it once more,'' he said, adding that he had not discussed that aspect of the request with Assange.

In the statement, Ny said that if Assange agreed to the interview in London, it would be carried out by the supporting prosecutor to the case, chief prosecutor Ingrid Isgren, along with a police officer.

Karin Rosander, the director of communications for the Swedish prosecutor, said that it was unclear how soon any interview could take place. After getting Assange's consent, the Swedish authorities would still need to make a formal request to Britain before going ahead, she said.

No charges have been brought against Assange formally, but that step is usually taken later in a criminal investigation in Sweden than in many other countries.

In 2012, Assange lost an appeal in Britain against extradition to Sweden, prompting his request for refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where, under diplomatic protocol, Britain does not have jurisdiction (See: Ecuador grants political asylum to Julian Assange).

Assange denies the allegations, but he has refused to go to Sweden to face prosecution because he says he could then ultimately be extradited to the United States.

There, he might face trial over the publication on WikiLeaks of huge quantities of delicate information that caused acute embarrassment for the United States and for other governments and revealed confidential details about diplomatic relations.

The Metropolitan Police in London have provided a 24-hour guard around the Ecuador embassy at a cost of about $15 million since the operation began, and Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe told LBC Radio this week that officials were considering ''how we can do that differently in the future, because it's sucking our resources in.''