Ecuador will allow prosecutors to interrogate WikiLeaks founder at embassy

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaks during a press conference inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. (John Stillwell, Pool, AP)
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaks during a press conference inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. (John Stillwell, Pool, AP)

Quito – Ecuador says it will let Swedish officials interview Julian Assange at its embassy in London, where the WikiLeaks founder has been sheltering for the past four years.

Quito's foreign ministry said in a statement late on Wednesday that a letter has been sent by the Ecuadoran government to set up the meeting.

"In the coming weeks, a date will be established for the proceedings to be held at the Embassy of Ecuador in the United Kingdom," the statement read.

Prosecutors in Sweden have said they want to interview Assange in connection with a 2010 rape allegation against him.

"The prosecutor has requested permission to carry out an interrogation, so it is of course good for the investigation if it can be held," Karin Rosander, spokesperson for the Swedish Prosecution Authority, told AFP on Thursday.

She said however that the exact date of the interview has not yet been pinned down. "The information we have received from Ecuador is that they are favourable to an interrogation and they will get back to us about the exact details," Rosander said.

She added that the questions will be asked by an Ecuadoran prosecutor, but said "Swedish prosecutor Ingrid Isgren and a police investigator will take part."

Opportunity to testify

For his part, Assange, through his attorneys, welcomed the development.

"Julian Assange's defence team welcomes the fact that steps are finally underway to take Mr Assange's statement, a request that Mr Assange has asked of the Swedish prosecution since August 2010," his lawyers said in a statement.

It also said the Australian had long sought the opportunity to testify in the case, but that "the Swedish prosecutor has refused to accept a statement by video conference, affidavit or other standard means."

Assange, 45, sought refuge in the Ecuadoran embassy in London in June 2012 after exhausting all his legal options in Britain against extradition to Sweden. He continues to challenge extradition to Sweden to be questioned by prosecutors.

Assange has said he fears that if he were sent to Sweden to face trial, he could be extradited to the United States to be tried over WikiLeaks' publication of hundreds of thousands of classified documents and face a long prison sentence or the death penalty.

Ecuador in the past has said it does not want to interfere with Sweden's rape investigation.

Statute of limitations

The Quito government has said it would support Assange's transfer if Stockholm could provide guarantees that he would not be sent to the United States for prosecution over WikiLeaks' release of 500 000 secret military files.

Authorities have said the statute of limitations for charges against Assange runs out in 2020.

The former computer hacker on Wednesday appealed a Stockholm district court's decision to maintain a European arrest warrant against him over the rape allegation.

The anti-secrecy campaigner, who denies the rape allegations, walked into Quito's London embassy of his own free will four years ago, with Britain on the brink of sending him to Stockholm, and has not left since.

Last month, a Swedish district court maintained a European arrest warrant against Assange, rejecting his lawyers' request to have it lifted.

But a UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in February ruled in a non-binding decision that Assange's confinement in the Ecuadoran embassy amounted to arbitrary detention by Sweden and Britain.

Both Britain and Sweden have angrily disputed the UN group's findings.

Assange has compared living inside the embassy – which has no garden but is in London's plush Knightsbridge district, near Harrods department store – to life on a space station.

His 4.6m by 4m room is divided into an office and a living area. He has a treadmill, shower, microwave and sun lamp and spends most of his day at his computer.

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