London: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange today reaffirmed his innocence after allegations of sexual assault against him were dropped in Sweden, but said he was “extremely disappointed” that his side of the story was not heard. “There was no need for any of this. I am an innocent man. I haven’t even been charged,” the 44-year-old whistleblower, who has been holed up in the Ecuador embassy in London ever since he sought refuge there in 2012, said.
“From the beginning I offered simple solutions. Come to the embassy to take my statement or promise not to send me to the US. This Swedish official refused both. She even refused a written statement,” he said. He said he was “extremely disappointed” and added that the Swedish prosecutor had avoided hearing his side of the story.
“I am strong but the cost to my family is unacceptable,” added the Australian journalist and activist, who denies all allegations. Sweden’s director of public prosecution Marianne Nye said a request to interview Assange inside the embassy had been submitted but permission was yet to be granted.
Nye said in a statement: “Julian Assange has voluntarily stayed away from justice by taking refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy. Now that the limitation period has passed for some of the [alleged] crimes I am forced to discontinue the preliminary investigation in these parts.
“This means that the investigation of the events is left unfinished because the suspect has not been heard, which I regret.” Two women had made allegations against Assange five years ago in Stockholm, but no charges have been brought because the prosecutor has been unable to interrogate him. Under Swedish law, charges cannot be laid without interviewing the suspect.
The Swedish statement also said an allegation of rape was due to expire on August 17, 2020, but that investigation would continue. The alleged events took place in August 2010. Assange sought asylum from Ecuador to avoid extradition to Sweden, fearing he would then be sent to the United States and put on trial for releasing secret American documents.
He remains at the embassy and has previously said he will not leave, even if the accusations of sex crimes were dropped. The cost of policing the Ecuadorian embassy in Knightsbridge, central London, for the past three years now stands at around 12 million pounds.
UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister of State Hugo Swire said its ambassador in Quito would make a “formal protest” to Ecuador over Assange. Swire said: “Ecuador must recognise that its decision to harbour Mr Assange more than three years ago has prevented the proper course of justice.”
“As a result, some of the serious sexual allegations against him will now expire. It is completely unacceptable that the British taxpayer has had to foot the bill for this abuse of diplomatic relations.”