The icy standoff between WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and the Swedish authorities may have finally thawed, ever so slightly.
Wanted for questioning over an alleged sexual assault, Assange has been successfully avoiding returning to Sweden for years now, having taken refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012.
He has been granted political asylum by Ecuador but his safe passage to the country is far from certain.
Assange, and the wider Wikileaks supporting world, fear that any return to Sweden – which the UK insists upon – to answer to the case would see him subsequently handed over to US authorities on espionage charges for his role in releasing hundreds of thousands of leaked documents over the years.
The Swedish authorities are finally making attempts to negotiate with Assange mainly down to the state’s statute of limitations on sexual assault cases, which in this instance expires in a few months’ time.
What’s strange, though, is the request for Assange to provide a DNA sample, something apparently already done several years ago.
Assange has yet to officially approve of such a meeting – Swedish authorities have contacted himself as well as UK and Ecuadorian authorities.
A lawyer for Assange, Per Samuelson, welcomed the move. “This is something we’ve demanded for over four years,” he said. “Julian Assange wants to be interviewed so he can be exonerated. So of course we welcome this.”
What a wake-up call
“He was quite tired when I called,” said Samuelson of his contact with Assange following Sweden’s move. “So he was a little dazed and had some difficulty grasping what it meant. But basically it was a combination that he is glad that finally something is happening while annoyed that (chief prosecutor) Marianne Ny is only doing it now.
The offer was made by Ny, who has been reluctant in the past to deal with Assange while not in Sweden as it would “lower the quality of the interview, and that he would need to be present in Sweden in any case should there be a trial in the future.”
Now, however, as “time is of the essence”, things have changed. Swedish legal opinion at a senior level, according to the Guardian, has swung against the prosecutor’s position.
Any resolution of the case will be a welcome relief to the UK’s coffers, with the current cost of maintaining a police presence around the Ecuadorian embassy throughout Assange’s stay currently clocked at well over €14m.