LONDON – WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange faces questioning by prosecutors today at the Ecuadoran embassy in London in a twist in the long-running legal battle over a rape allegation against him.
An Ecuadoran prosecutor will quiz the founder of the secret-spilling website at the red-brick building where he has been holed up for more than four years, with Swedish prosecutor Ingrid Isgren and a Swedish police inspector also attending, officials said.
The 45-year-old Australian sought refuge in the central London embassy in June 2012 after Swedish prosecutors issued a European arrest warrant against him, over allegations of rape and sexual assault filed by two women who met Assange during a 2010 trip to Sweden.
He denied the claims, saying they were politically motivated, and insisting his sexual encounters with the two women were consensual.
He has refused to travel to Sweden for questioning, fearing he would be extradited to the United States over WikiLeaks’ release of 500,000 secret military files on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Swedish prosecutors dropped the sexual assault probe last year after the five-year statute of limitations expired.
But they still want to question him about the 2010 rape allegation, which carries a 10-year statute of limitations.
A Swedish official source said the questioning was expected to begin at around 1000 GMT. The investigators intend to take a DNA sample, subject to his agreement.
"It’s planned to last a few days," Assange’s lawyer Per Samuelsson said, adding that it was too early to say what might arise from the meeting or what would be made public.
It will be the first time he has been interviewed over the matter since initial questioning by Swedish police at the time of the allegation.
Assange, speaking through his lawyer, has said he welcomes the "chance to clear his name" and hopes the investigation will subsequently close.
In May, a Swedish court reaffirmed the arrest order, rejecting the finding of a UN working group that his confinement in the Ecuadoran embassy amounted to arbitrary detention. – AFP