Swedish Prosecutor: Time to Close the Assange Case

By Swedish former district prosecutor Rolf Hillegren. From SvD.

Julian Assange giving a speech from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on August 19, 2012
Julian Assange giving a speech from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on August 19, 2012
Julian Assange giving a speech from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on August 19, 2012
Julian Assange giving a speech from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on August 19, 2012

STOCKHOLM (Rixstep) — Is it reasonable that someone in an embassy in London has no way for the next 27 years to leave the building, whilst the Swedes could remedy the situation without significant disadvantage to anyone? That’s what Swedish district prosecutor Rolf Hillegren is asking.

The above description, without too much excessiveness, summarises the situation with the Assange case. And I am fully convinced that the situation is very troublesome at least for our prime minister, our minister for justice, and our prosecutor-general. To make it even worse: it’s insulting not only to the Swedish authorities, but also to the British who’ve helped bring it about.

So what do we need to solve the dilemma? Yes, it’s about biting into a very bitter apple, but that unpleasantry should be insignificant compared to the alternative which is several times worse.

A short recap: Julian Assange visited Sweden in 2010 as a celebrated hero. But the visit had repercussions he hadn’t counted on. Two women he’d spent time with were worried they’d contracted HIV and therefore went to the police, the one to support the other. The police decided to open a criminal complaint, so Assange was arraigned, arrested, and interrogated. The prosecutor closed the investigation as far as the more serious allegation; what was left was an accusation of molestation, even that one very questionable. Assange stayed in the country a while after the warrant was rescinded. So no, he did not try to evade ‘Swedish justice’.

The complainant counsel then petitioned to reopen the closed case for the benefit of both women. The decision came to a higher prosecutor who granted the petition. But by then Assange had already left the country and was unwilling to return, as he’d become afraid he’d be surrendered to the US by Sweden. No matter this fear is well-founded – it’s obvious Assange is convinced it’s a real threat.

So at this point the prosecutor requested Assange be arrested in absentia (again) whereafter an international arrest warrant (Red Notice) was issued. The Stockholm appellate court reduced the accusations before the warrant went out, Assange turned up voluntarily at a police station in the UK as soon as the warrant was in effect, and after several months of twists and turns, the British supreme court decided he should be extradited to Sweden. But Assange made his way to the Ecuador embassy in Knightsbridge and was given asylum by Ecuador. He can remain at the embassy until the year 2040 when the statute of limitations takes effect, if the Swedish authorities aren’t keen on finding a solution to this delicate issue, something that long ago passed beyond the proportionate, the reasonable, and the decent.

How could this happen? The decision to close the case was well-founded and was made by an experienced prosecutor. The decision to reopen the investigation was not well-founded, something especially unfortunate, given everything that happened afterwards. It should also be mentioned that a decision to dismiss a sex case is taken very carefully, due to all the hysteria surrounding such cases. The motto was to turn over all stones, which resulted in turning over stones that were of no interest – and all this just to minimise heat from the media.

But the investigation leaked onto the net and now anyone can read it and draw their own conclusions. And I believe that few people with any sense of evidentiary evaluation will see the case as something to not be closed. The women have been interrogated and there are no more steps to the investigation. It’s highly unlikely that were Assange to be interrogated again, he’d say something that made it possible to bring the case to court. It is therefore incomprehensible what the prosecutor expects him to say. So the interrogation of Assange is completely unnecessary. The situation with Assange and the women is mostly about differences of opinion about the use of condoms. And that’s not the type of dispute that’s settled in our courts.

If this had been about a man resident in Sweden, no major damage would have occurred. He’d have been questioned one more time and then the investigation would have been closed again. But the suspect wasn’t just anyone and no one could have predicted what was going to happen. And this is when the circus began. Prestige entered stage centre, and the prosecutor painted herself into a corner. And she’s still there, but unfortunately she also dragged down the judicial system which has now been shamed for over three years.

As soon as it was clear that Assange was not prepared to voluntarily go to Sweden, the prosecutor should have seen that he was questioned in London. If she’d done that, the loss of international prestige for Sweden would have been limited if she immediately afterwards formally closed the cases: no one outside the world of law would have understood that the second questioning of Assange had never been necessary. But instead of this solution, the prosecutor has insisted this questioning be held in Sweden, in the event the case could lead to prosecution. This would have been the correct decision – had the evidentiary situation been otherwise.

Due to all the utterly unreal twists and turns, the case has devolved into something extraordinary. And if you want to end the stalemate, then you need to do something completely extraordinary. And everything points to it being worth the cost. Only stubbornness and continued prestige thinking can stand in the way.

What can be done? Well, the prosecutor-general should on his own initiative (ex officio) rescind the decision to reopen the investigation, rescind the arraignment ruling, and rescind the arrest warrant.

Now someone may claim that something so radical would still make it impossible for the two women to take their case to court. Even here one needs an unconventional solution. The state should therefore ex gratia pay damages which they would have been awarded if Assange were tried and convicted. One would thereby avoid possible claims that the women were stepped over by the judicial system. This is an attractive solution – not in the least with regard for the state’s responsibility for creating this situation and the fact that the women have suffered in the media.

What will be the result? The Swedish judicial system will again be harshly criticised. But once the criticism dies down, it’s likely that voices will be heard that point out that Sweden finally made a wise decision – not in the least when one considers the alternative.

Sweden would in addition save face for Great Britain for their part in the bizarre situation by making it possible for Assange to flee to the Ecuador embassy. And Assange would be able to leave the embassy a free citizen, no longer looking at staying in Knightsbridge for another 27 years.

Rolf Hillegren
Former district prosecutor

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