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Probe against Julian Assange to continue

Swedish prosecutor has enough evidence to continue investigating a molestation allegation against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

WikiLeaks to release CIA paper Wednesday
WikiLeaks founder hires top defence lawyer

A Swedish prosecutor said Wednesday she had enough evidence to continue investigating a molestation allegation against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, days after deciding not to open a rape probe against him.

"The suspicion against him remains," chief prosecutor in the case Eva Finne told AFP following days of deliberation.

Swedish prosecutors on Friday night issued an arrest warrant for Assange over an allegation of rape, but Finne abruptly withdrew it on Saturday, saying new information had come to light.

Wednesday's decision regarded a separate claim of molestation against the former hacker, Finne said, adding in a statement that she would "give direction to the investigators to hear the suspect, Mr. Assange."

"Assange is no longer suspected of rape but the charges against him concerning the crime of molesting (sic) is still a fact," she said.

Finne said she had looked into whether the discarded rape charges should be reduced to suspicion of a lesser crime, but had decided that in that particular case "there are no grounds to suspect a crime."

Assange, a 39-year-old Australian, has said the claims are part of a "smear campaign" aimed at discrediting his whistleblowing website, which is locked in a row with the Pentagon over the release of secret US documents about the war in Afghanistan.

WikiLeaks published nearly 77,000 classified US military documents on the war in Afghanistan on July 23 and has said it will publish another 15,000 within the next couple of weeks.

The site, which has also previously leaked information leading to shocking revelations in places ranging from Iraq to Iceland, has also said it will release a leaked CIA paper Wednesday, without providing further details.

Assange has hired one of Sweden's top defence attorneys, Leif Silbersky, who on Wednesday described the whole case as "scandalous".

"He has been stigmatised around the whole world as a rapist and then, when a competent prosecutor looks into the case, it is boiled down to the lowest level of criminality," he told the TT news agency.

According to Finne, investigators would contact Silbersky to set up a time for the interrogation of Assange, who in an interview with Al-Jazeera late Sunday said he was somewhere in northern Sweden.

In the meantime, the WikiLeaks founder is free to move about and even leave the country as he pleases.

"No means of coercion are being used for the time being, and frankly I don't think they will be either," Finne told AFP.

The crime of molestation in Sweden is punishable by fines and no more than a year in prison, she said.

A lawyer representing the two women who have alleged they were sexually assaulted by Assange told media Wednesday he would appeal the prosecutor's ruling not to investigate one of the claims.

"What was once considered a rape is now according to the prosecutor not even molestation ... In my opinion it is quite clear that at least reasonable suspicion remains," Claes Borgstroem told TT.

In an interview with AFP Tuesday, the lawyer also rejected Assange's claim the allegations were part of a plot to harm WikiLeaks.

"This is not a smear campaign," Borgstroem said, pointing out that his clients, aged 25 to 35, had gone to police separately over different alleged incidents and had no links to anyone who would be interested in discrediting the website.

"This has nothing to do with WikiLeaks or the CIA," he insisted.

Swedish prosecutors have faced heavy criticism at home for their handling of the case, especially for the decision on Friday evening to confirm media reports that the initial allegation involved Assange.

A judicial watchdog on Tuesday reported the duty prosecutor who made the call for breaching rules regarding preliminary investigation confidentiality.

Last Updated (Wednesday, 25 August 2010 16:34)


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