Swedish prosecutors have dropped their investigation into two of the four allegations against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, including one of sexual assault, according to media reports Wednesday. The accusations against Assange are reaching their statutes of limitation of five years Thursday.
In 2010, the 44-year-old Assange, who has been ensconced in Ecuador's embassy in London since 2012, was accused of sexual molestation and rape by two Swedish women. Assange, however, has consistently denied the allegations, claiming the sexual encounters were consensual.
And, despite repeated attempts, Swedish authorities have failed to gain access to Ecuador's embassy in London and question Assange.
Under Swedish law, if suspects are not questioned before the expiration of the deadline, they can no longer be tried for the alleged crimes. While the statute of limitation for the investigation of the sexual assault and coercion allegations expires Thursday, and the time limit on a further allegation of sexual molestation runs out Tuesday, Assange can still be prosecuted for the more serious allegation of rape, the deadline for which does not expire until 2020.
It is not yet clear whether Sweden would be able to question Assange before that time as Ecuador has so far refused to approve prosecutors’ requests, reportedly citing procedural issues.
“Our position is that the investigation should have been shut down earlier because there wasn't enough evidence to keep it going,” Thomas Olsson, one of Assange’s lawyers, told BBC. “It's regrettable that it's gone on for this long.”
Swedish authorities had initially insisted Assange return to Sweden for interrogation. However, he rejected the condition over fears that Stockholm might hand him over to the U.S., where he could be tried for leaking classified military and diplomatic documents.
British police, meanwhile, are maintaining a 24-hour watch outside Ecuador's embassy in London, and have vowed to arrest Assange if he sets foot outside the building. The surveillance has so far cost British taxpayers nearly $19 million, BBC reported.