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story.lead_photo.caption Vice chief prosecutor Eva-Britt speaks at a press conference in Stockholm, Sweden, Monday May 13, 2019. Swedish prosecutors are to reopen rape case against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a month after he was removed from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. (Anders Wiklund/TT News Agency via AP)

STOCKHOLM -- Swedish prosecutors said Monday that they are reopening a rape case against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and will seek his extradition from Britain.

The move sets up a legal battle with the United States, where the Australian computer hacker is separately wanted in the hacking of a Pentagon computer. British authorities will have to decide which extradition request takes precedence.

Assange, who sought refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012 to avoid being sent to Sweden for questioning, was evicted last month after Ecuador revoked his political asylum. He was arrested by British police on April 11 and is currently in London's Belmarsh Prison serving a 50-week sentence for jumping bail in 2012.

Eva-Marie Persson, Sweden's deputy director of public prosecutions, told a news conference in Stockholm on Monday that "there is still a probable cause to suspect that Assange committed a rape." She added: "It is my assessment that a new questioning of Assange is required."

Swedish prosecutors filed preliminary charges -- a step short of formal charges -- against Assange after he visited the country in 2010, after complaints from two Swedish women who said they were the victims of sex crimes committed by Assange.

While a case of alleged sexual misconduct was dropped in 2017 when the statute of limitations expired, a rape allegation remains. Swedish authorities have had to shelf it because Assange was living at the embassy at the time and there was no prospect of bringing him to Sweden.

The statute of limitations in that case expires in August next year. Assange has denied wrongdoing, asserting that the allegations were politically motivated and that the sex was consensual.

The Australian secret-spiller now faces questioning in Sweden, on top of being held on a U.S. extradition warrant over accusations that he conspired with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to hack into a Pentagon computer.

Assange's Swedish lawyer Per E. Samuelson said on Monday that the decision to reopen the rape case is "outrageous."

"He is in prison in the U.K., he faces the risk of being extradited to the United States and, on top of that, to demand that he's going to put all his energy into looking into a 10-year-old story from Sweden is just too much," he said.

But Elisabeth Massi Fritz, the lawyer for the woman who reported being raped by Assange, said her client "feels great gratitude" over the decision to reopen the case.

She said it "signals that no one stands above the law," and that "the legal system in Sweden doesn't give a special treatment to anyone."

The 47-year-old Australian met the women in connection with a lecture in August 2010 in Stockholm. One was involved in organizing an event for Sweden's center-left Social Democratic Party and offered to host Assange at her apartment. The other was in the audience.

WikiLeaks' Editor-in-Chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said the decision to reopen the case against Assange "will give Julian a chance to clear his name."

A Section on 05/14/2019

Print Headline: Sweden to reopen Assange rape case

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