The statute of limitations on three of the four allegations against Julian Assange is set to expire ‘in the coming days’. This morning, veteran reporter John Chrispinsson (JC) welcomed Assange attorney Thomas Olsson (TO) to the SVT studio for a discussion of where things are likely to go from here.
JC: Now we’re moving onto a much talked-about judicial case, talked about all over the world, a case with roots in Sweden. It’s the case of Julian Assange. For in the coming days, the statute of limitations for some of the allegations against the WikiLeaks founder will expire, that’s to say they’ll be written off. Assange is under suspicion of unlawful coercion, sexual molestation, and lesser rape involving two women he met during a visit to Sweden five years ago, and as of three years ago he’s at the Ecuador embassy in London, as we know.
Here in the studio we have Thomas Olsson, attorney for Julian Assange. What does this statute of limitations mean actually?
TO: It means that three of the four accusations will not be prosecuted, and of course it’s lamentable that it’s taken such a long time to wind up this case. This should have happened long ago.
JC: But isn’t it also embarrassing for Julian Assange? He doesn’t get closure. The suspicions are still there, and the matter is not investigated.
TO: What people often forget is that Julian Assange voluntarily attended the first interrogation and answered the questions he was asked. Then the investigation was closed, and then a new prosecutor arrived on the scene to open it again, and since then the case has gone nowhere, and Julian Assange is staying at an embassy in dire conditions.
JC: But it’s not all the accusations that will expire, be written off – the most serious of them remains, for there the statute of limitations is much longer, twice as long, so in practice, what does this mean for Julian Assange?
TO: No, this doesn’t mean that anything changes in the short run, but I think that this development should start people asking whether the entire investigation should now be closed. If the prosecutor handles the case in this way, so that this much time goes by without anything at all happening, and if this results in the statute of limitations expiring for parts of the case, then we have to question the benefit and effectiveness of keeping the case open.
JC: So this doesn’t mean he can leave the embassy in London?
TO: No, he can’t leave the embassy as long as he wants to use the right to asylum that Ecuador granted him, and so he has to stay at the embassy.
JC: In the coming days the statute of limitations for the lesser allegations will expire. What will Julian Assange do?
TO: This isn’t something we’ve discussed as things stand, and we have to wait and see what happens when the statute takes effect. For several years now we’ve asked the prosecutors to come and interrogate Julian Assange, and as defence attorneys we’ve made preparations for an interrogation, but the matter’s still being discussed, and we still haven’t got a reply.
JC: This surveillance of Julian Assange at the Ecuador embassy has cost almost TWELVE MILLION POUNDS, something like that. There’s been a lot of snags between Ecuador, Great Britain, and even Sweden. Is all this worth it?
TO: That’s a question the prosecution authority should answer, because for years now Julian Assange has offered to be part of an interrogation at the Ecuador embassy, the natural step to move the case forward. But for reasons which are unclear, the prosecutor has refused. The prosecutor should explain how it can be that things have gone on this long without anything happening in the investigation.
JC: What would it take to get Julian Assange to consider leaving the embassy?
TO: Well that won’t happen. The reason he’s at the embassy is his concern for being extradited to the US and prosecuted there, because of very serious accusations the US made about WikiLeaks publications and because of personal threats made by people in public office, so as long as that threat remains – and it’s a threat of global scope – he can’t leave the embassy, because then he’d lose the right to asylum that Ecuador granted him.
JC: So actually the situation is that when the statute of limitations for these three cases expires, nothing will happen to Julian Assange’s life at the embassy.
TO: I think there’ll be a lot of talk about how the prosecution authority handled this case, and we need to talk about that, because the real question is whether even the final part of the case should be written off as well, considering the status of the investigation, and considering the ineffective way the prosecutor has conducted the case, and I think the prosecutors have to explain the reasons we’ve ended up in this situation if they want to justify keeping the final part open. So much time has gone by, it’s been such an unbelievable burden for everyone. The way the prosecutor handled this case is unacceptable.
JC: I’d like to point out that the prosecution authority did not have the possibility to be here tonight, nor the attorneys for the women, so this is an opinion that can’t be rebutted. How does he spend his days? A lot’s been written about it. It’s a rather meagre existence?
TO: Yes of course it’s unbelievably limited – he’s been at the embassy for several years, he’s had no opportunity to get outdoors at all, and he just has to use his time to, so to speak, study things, but for more detail about that…
JC: He reads a lot of books?
TO: He reads books, and things like that, but for more detail about that, he’d be better able to tell you.
JC: How much contact do you have with him?
TO: Oh it’s off and on.
JC: What does that mean – off and on?
TO: Well, several times a month. Sometimes it’s more, perhaps several times per week. It all depends on whether things are happening in the case.
JC: So his spirits are good, or is he starting to get desperate?
TO: Julian Assange is an individual with an unbelievable sense of integrity, and over the years he’s demonstrated a moral courage and an ability to keep his eyes on the target in a way that dwarfs most of what we observe in other people.
JC: Thank you, Thomas Olsson, attorney for Julian Assange, and in the coming days we will see some of the accusations against him reach their statute of limitations, but not the most serious one.