HELSINKI (AP) – Swedish prosecutors on Thursday dropped cases of lesser sexual misconduct against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange but said they still want to question him on accusations of rape made after his visit to Stockholm five years ago.
The Swedish Prosecution Authority says it has been unable to charge the 44-year-old Australian, who escaped a Swedish arrest warrant by taking refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London in 2012 because it had not been possible to question him.
Public prosecutor Marianne Ny said she has tried to interview him since autumn 2010, but that "he has consistently refused to appear" after leaving Sweden. "I still hope, however, that I will be able to arrange for an interview, as there are ongoing negotiations between Sweden and Ecuador," Ny said in a statement on the agency's website.
The agency says it was dropping a case of sexual molestation and one of unlawful coercion that expired Thursday, and a third case of sexual molestation, which would have "time-barred on Aug. 18." However, Assange was still wanted for questioning on allegations of rape that expire in 2020.
Assange said in London that he was "extremely disappointed" at the Swedish prosecutor's decision to continue an investigation against him.
"There was no need for any of this. I am an innocent man," he said in a statement, denying he had refused to talk to Ny.
"From the beginning I offered simple solutions. Come to the embassy to take my statement or promise not to send me to the United States," he said. "This Swedish official refused both. She even refused a written statement."
The accusations of sexual misconduct and rape by two women stem from a 2010 visit to Stockholm by Assange who drew crowds to his meetings.
After having separate sexual encounters with him, the women — then in their late 20s and early 30s —went together to the police in Stockholm and wanted to have Assange tested for sexually transmitted diseases.
Assange was questioned by the police, denied allegations of molestation and said he had consensual sexual encounters with the women. Police passed on the case to the prosecutor who ordered his arrest.
Assange escaped to England and said had no intention of going to Sweden for fear of being extradited to the United States because of an investigation into WikiLeaks' dissemination of hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. documents.
A U.S. federal court said in March that there are "active and ongoing" attempts to prosecute Assange and WikiLeaks in an investigation involving espionage, conspiracy, and computer fraud.
One of Assange's lawyers in Sweden, Thomas Olsson, described Thursday's decision as "expected."
"It will not change anything ... as the most serious suspicion against him remains," he told the AP.