FUGITIVE Wikileaks founder Julian Assange could walk free from his diplomatic bolt-hole hide-out in London as early as next week with sexual assault allegations made against him set to expire.
The 44-year-old Australian has been holed up at the Ecuadorean embassy in central London since June 2012 and was later granted political asylum there against extradition to Sweden to face questioning on three counts of sexual assault and one of rape alleged by two women.
He has remained in a back room of the embassy, next door to the Harrods department store loading dock, since then with British police armed with arrest warrants posted outside the building 24 hours a day at a cost so far of more than AUD$25 million.
But Swedish authorities have now confirmed that next week three of the four charges against him will reach their five-year expiry date under Sweden’s statute of limitations and Assange will be automatically cleared.
The three claims of sexual assault related to incidents in a flat in Stockholm in 2010 when he was invited to stay over by a Wikileaks supporter and allegedly took a consensual act too far, physically forced himself on the woman and later deliberately broke a condom she demanded he use.
The fourth charge of rape has a 10-year statue of limitations but it was not clear whether it would still be pursued; Swedish authorities in March had already confirmed it was prepared to offer Assange a concession and formally interview him in the embassy in London thereby ensuring he doesn’t need to leave the diplomatic confines and be arrested and extradited to face the claims in a Swedish court.
He has not been charged with any offence in Sweden and is only wanted there on warrant for questioning and in the UK is sought for breaching bail.
The Swedish Prosecution Authority (SPA) said one allegation of sexual molestation and one of unlawful coercion would expire on Thursday, while another of sexual molestation would expire on Tuesday August 18. The allegation of rape will not expire until 2020.
The spokeswoman added: “The prosecutor still wants to interview him. The prosecutor still has not got permission from Ecuador.”
A WikiLeaks spokesman said it would be “absolutely ridiculous” if the rape case was to now remain open.
The alleged victim’s lawyer Claes Borgstrom last night told The Times newspaper in London it was an injustice but also a relief for the victim.
“On one hand she wants him … to answer to the allegations, and of course to be convicted but on the other hand she is relieved that she will not have to stand in court,” he told the newspaper adding they formally expire on August 19.
He said much time had passed and his client was leading “a normal life” and while at the time she wanted him to stand trial and be convicted she didn’t necessarily now want to have to recall the incident.
Assange has maintained his innocence and he and his supporters have claimed the women were set up to make the charges to have him extradited to Sweden just so as he could be handed over to the US authorities and taken to America to be charged over the release of hundreds of thousands of hacked sensitive military and diplomatic documents in 2010.
He has since become a cause célèbre’ with dozens of celebrities visiting him in the embassy where he has taken over several room, to live, eat and sleep and continue to run Wikileaks with access to a bank of hi-tech equipment set up in what once was a library.
He also has a running machine and sun lamps to stay relatively healthy and has learnt Spanish in the hope of living in Ecuador.