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Sweden drops Julian Assange rape investigation

UK police say Assange will still be arrested for 'minor offence' if he left Ecuadorian embassy where he is holed up.

Julian Assange

Swedish prosecutors on Friday dropped a rape investigation into Julian Assange, the founder of anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, bringing to an end a seven-year legal stand-off.

Yet, British police said he would still be arrested if he left the Ecuadorean embassy in the UK capital, London, where he has been holed up since 2012.

Assange, 45, took refuge there to avoid extradition to Sweden amid fears that he would have been handed over to the US to face prosecution over the publication of classified military and diplomatic documents by WikiLeaks.

"The investigation is discontinued," Marianne Ny, the director of public prosecution, told reporters in Sweden's capital, Stockholm.

READ MORE: Five things to know about Julian Assange

"In order to proceed with the case, Julian Assange would have to be formally notified of the criminal suspicions against him. We cannot expect to receive assistance from Ecuador regarding this," Ny said.

"We are not making a statement about his guilt."

'Very pleased'

Christophe Marchand, a member of Assange's legal team, welcomed the suspension of the investigation as "the end of his nightmare".  

"We have been waiting a long time for this decision," he said, adding: "Julian Assange has been a victim of a huge abuse of procedure. We are very pleased and very moved".

Shortly after the announcement, Assange posted a picture of himself smiling broadly, without comment.

Later on Friday, British police said separately they would still arrest Assange if he walked out of the embassy because he had broken his conditions for bail by failing to surrender on June 29, 2012 for extradition to Sweden.

"Now that the situation has changed and the Swedish authorities have discontinued their investigation into that matter, Mr Assange remains wanted for a much less serious offence," it said in a statement.

"The Metropolitan Police Service is obliged to execute that warrant should he leave the Embassy."

In a Twitter post, WikiLeaks said the UK has refused to comment whether it has received a US warrant to extradite Assange, and added: "Focus now moves to UK".

'It's a scandal'

The rape accusation against Assange dates from August 2010 when an alleged victim, who says she met him at a WikiLeaks conference in Stockholm a few days earlier, filed a complaint.

She said she was "shocked" by the Swedish prosecutors' decision to drop the investigation, according to her lawyer. 

"It is a scandal that a suspected rapist can escape justice and thereby avoid the courts ... no decision to (end the case) can make her change that Assange exposed her to rape," Elisabeth Fritz, the plaintiff's lawyer, said in a statement. 

Assange, however, has repeatedly reiterated his innocence and said the sex was consensual, insisting that the accusations are "politically motivated".

The probe has suffered from endless procedural complications since it began in 2010. 

Per Samuelsson, Assange's Swedish lawyer, last month filed a new motion demanding that the arrest warrant be lifted after US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in April that arresting Assange would be "a priority".

In a letter sent to the Swedish government on May 8, Ecuador condemned "the obvious lack of progress" despite Swedish officials questioning Assange at the embassy in November 2016.

A UN panel has said that Assange had been "arbitrarily detained" and should be able to claim compensation from Britain and Sweden. The two countries have dismissed the report.

Assange, who is Australian, was granted asylum by Ecuador and has been able to evade justice because he is on Ecuador's sovereign territory by being in the embassy.

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