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It Will Be Up to Britain to Decide Whether U.S. or Sweden Gets to Try Julian Assange First


WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, currently serving a 50-week jail sentence in Britain for bail-skipping, has two nations seeking to prosecute him in unrelated cases. Both the United States and Sweden have criminal cases at the ready, and it will be up to Britain to decide who gets the first shot at Assange.

Deputy Director of Public Prosecution in Sweden Eva-Marie Persson formally issued a detention order on Monday to have Assange extradited to Sweden after he is released from the Belmarsh prison in London.

“If the court decides to detain him, I will issue a European Arrest Warrant concerning surrender to Sweden,” Persson said. Swedish prosecutors seek to prosecute Assange over a rape allegation dating back to 2010. Sweden recently reopened that case after Assange was hauled out of the Ecuadorian embassy.

As the New York Post reported, two women in Sweden previously accused Assange of sex crimes. One case disappeared because of the statute of limitations, but the rape case can still be prosecuted. The statute of limitations runs out in 2020. Assange has denied the allegations, but did not deny sexual activity. He called the allegations political and the sex consensual, per the Post. Assange was accused of raping a woman while she slept — without a condom.

All of this is happening as Chelsea Manning remains locked up in jail for her refusal to testify against Assange in the Eastern District of Virginia (EDVA). It was the second time Manning has been jailed for defying a subpoena in recent days. Manning is a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst who was convicted of violating the Espionage Act by disclosing thousands of “classified (and unclassified but ‘sensitive’) documents” to WikiLeaks.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that Assange was being charged for conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, and alleged that Assange helped Manning hack government computers, tried to hide Manning’s role in leaks, and encouraged Manning to do more leaking.

According to Persson, it will be up to the British to decide whether Sweden’s arrest warrant and extradition or the U.S. extradition takes precedence.

U.S. prosecutors are vying to have Assange extradited to the U.S. to face this charge. Months ago, EDVA prosecutors erred by naming Assange as a target of yet-to-be unsealed criminal charges. In November 2018, the USAO for the EDVA was in the unenviable position of having to respond to a filing from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) seeking to know more after federal prosecutors had erroneously exposed Assange as a target of criminal charges. U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia G. Zachary Terwilliger responded to the error by saying the government “accepts full responsibility for that mistake,” but added that he would not confirm nor deny charges against Assange.

[Image via Jack Taylor/Getty Images]

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.