Sweden's top prosecutor says she is dropping an investigation into a rape claim against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, bringing to an end a seven-year legal stand-off.
- Assange was under investigation for alleged sex crimes from 2010, which he denies
- Prosecutor dropping investigation because all avenues to pursue it have been exhausted
- Assange's lawyer has described end of seven-year stand-off as "total victory"
Assange, 45, took refuge in Ecuador's embassy in London in 2012 to escape extradition to Sweden to answer questions about sex-crime allegations from two women.
But the Swedish Prosecutor has now dropped that investigation because all avenues to pursue it have been exhausted.
Chief prosecutor Marianne Ny said maintaining his European arrest warrant would have required Assange to attend court in Sweden, and extraditing him to the country seems impossible in the near future.
"This is a total victory for Julian Assange. He is now free to leave the embassy when he wants," Per E Samuelsson, his lawyer in Sweden, told Swedish Radio.
"He is of course happy and relieved. He has been critical that it has lasted that long."
The allegations stemmed from a 2010 trip Assange made to Stockholm, where two women claimed that in separate instances they had consensual sex with Assange that became non-consensual when he refused to wear a condom.
What were the sexual assault allegations and why did it take six years for him to be interviewed?
Assange has vigorously denied the claims, and in a statement acquired by the ABC in December, told prosecutors he had been subjected to "six years of unlawful, politicised detention without charge".
"I want people to know the truth about how abusive this process has been," Assange said in releasing the statement.
While Assange has maintained his innocence in the face of the sex crime allegations, he has not left Ecuador's embassy for five years, except for occasional appearances on the building's balcony.
He feared that if he was in custody he might ultimately be extradited to the US for his role at the helm of WikiLeaks, which has published tens of thousands of leaked classified US government documents.
"It isn't a question of believing America is after him, it's a question of knowledge," human rights lawyer and legal advisor to Assange, Geoffrey Robertson, told Lateline.
Mr Robertson said the US was likely to indict Assange, and that the Trump administration could use his case as a diversion from the alleged ties to Russia.
He said the ball was now in Ecuador's court as to whether or not they continued to provide protection to Assange.
"They think they can divert attention from the present scandal by prosecuting, by demanding the extradition of Julian Assange, and perhaps putting him on trial in America with his collaborators," he said.
"If the Ecuadorians don't continue their protection and he comes out, then the Met Police will no doubt arrest him for breaking bail, for which he might get three months, but that pales in comparison to the 45 years maximum under the charges that [US Attorney-General Jeff] Sessions is planning for him and will act as a diversion, I think, from the heat that the President [Donald Trump] is feeling at the moment over his team's connections with Russia," he said.
Video: Julian Assange says extradition to US will be contingent on discussions with Department of Justice (ABC News)
Assange still faces UK arrest
Despite Sweden's decision to drop a rape investigation, British police say that Julian Assange still faces arrest if he leaves Ecuador's London embassy.
It is not known if US officials are seeking Assange's arrest because of a possible sealed indictment.
Last month, US President Donald Trump said he would support any decision by the Justice Department to charge Assange.
WikiLeaks tweeted after the Swedish announcement: "UK refuses to confirm or deny whether it has already received a US extradition warrant for Julian Assange. Focus now moves to UK."
The Metropolitan Police force said that there is a British warrant for Assange's arrest after he jumped bail in 2012, and it "is obliged to execute that warrant should he leave the embassy".
But it adds that Assange is now wanted for a "much less serious offense" than the original sex crimes claims, and police "will provide a level of resourcing which is proportionate to that offense".
Police kept up round-the-clock guard outside the embassy until last year, when the operation was scaled back.