London’s Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) has announced that it will no longer maintain a round-the-clock presence outside the Ecuadorean Embassy where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange sought asylum more than three years ago.
In a statement issued Monday, the MPS said while police efforts to arrest Assange “continue and should he leave the Embassy the MPS will make every effort to arrest him. However, it is no longer proportionate to commit officers to a permanent presence.”
Assange sought asylum to Ecuador in June 2012, attempting to avoid prosecution in Sweden over sexual misconduct and rape charges. The WikiLeaks founder stated that he feared Swedish authorities would extradite him to the United States on possible espionage charges over the release of classified material.
Assange has denied the sexual assault charges and in August the statute of limitations on the lesser charges expired, leaving just one allegation of rape that he can be prosecuted for.
The head of Britain's diplomatic service, Simon McDonald, summoned Ecuador's ambassador to the Foreign Office on Monday to express "deep frustration" at the lack of progress in resolving the standoff.
The 24-hour police operation has been controversial in part because it is so costly. Police say the operation cost 11.1 million pounds ($17.6 million) through April 2015.
The police force said in its statement that Assange is still subject to arrest for jumping bail and holing up in the embassy while wanted for questioning over sexual assault allegations in Sweden. It said if he leaves the embassy, the force will "deploy a number of overt and covert tactics to arrest him."
The statement said, "The MPS has to balance the interests of justice in this case with the ongoing risks to the safety of Londoners and all those we protect, investigating crime and arresting offenders wanted for serious offenses."
Swedish officials have held talks with Ecuador about questioning Assange at the embassy in London, so far with no result.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.