US whistleblower in dirty tricks row over rape claim
Julian Assange, the founder of the WikiLeaks website, was at the centre of an extraordinary 'dirty tricks' row last night after the Swedish government issued and then withdrew an arrest warrant against him for rape. In a bizarre chain of events, prosecutors initially said he was wanted for questioning about accusations of rape and molestation following reports in Expressen, a Swedish tabloid newspaper.
It was understood to relate to complaints brought by two women in Sweden, where the Australian-born internet activist has been staying for the past week.
But hours after their initial statement yesterday afternoon, prosecutors announced that the warrant had been withdrawn, saying the rape suspicion was unfounded.
Mr Assange described the accusations as an attempt to smear him over his whistleblowing work, which has included releasing classified information about the Western military campaign in Afghanistan.
"Why these accusations are popping up right now is an interesting question. I have not been contacted by police," he said. "These allegations are false."
The prosecutor's office had said it wished to interview Mr Assange after the reports in Expressen, which did not name the complainants.
However, shortly after friends said he was preparing to attend a police station of his own accord, there was a further statement from the prosecutor's office saying that the rape charge had been dropped.
"I don't think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape," Eva Finne, the chief prosecutor said. She did not address the status of the molestation case, a less serious charge that would not lead to an arrest warrant.
Mr Assange had been in Sweden for a press conference, where he announced that his website was intending to publish further secret military documents. Making false accusations of rape or molestation is a criminal offence punishable by jail in Sweden.
Some sources in the Swedish media claimed that the two women did not report the case to the police.