Stockholm -- Swedish prosecutors said Monday they are reopening a rape case against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a month after he was removed from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. They said they will seek his extradition after he has served his for jumping bail.
The Swedish move may leave British authorities to decide whether to extradite Assange to Sweden or to the United States, where he is.
Eva-Marie Persson, Sweden's deputy director of public prosecutions, told a news conference in Stockholm that "there is still a probable cause to suspect that Assange committed a rape." She added: "It is my assessment that a new questioning of Assange is required."
Swedish prosecutors filed preliminary charges -- a step short of formal charges -- against Assange after he visited the country in 2010, following complaints from two Swedish women who said they were the victims of sex crimes committed by Assange.
A case of alleged sexual misconduct was dropped in 2017 when the statute of limitations expired. That left a rape allegation, but officials couldn't pursue it because Assange was living at the embassy and there was no prospect of bringing him to Sweden.
The statute of limitations on that case expires in August 2020. Assange has denied wrongdoing, asserting that they were politically motivated and that the sex was consensual.
Persson said a European arrest warrant will be issued for Assange.
The rape allegations
The 47-year-old Australian met the women in connection with a lecture in August 2010 in Stockholm. One was involved in organizing an event for Sweden's center-left Social Democratic Party and offered to host Assange at her apartment. The other was in the audience.
A police officer who heard the women's accounts decided there was reason to suspect they were victims of sex crimes and handed the case to a prosecutor.
Neither of the alleged victims has been named publicly.
A lawyer representing one of the women called the prosecutor's decision to reopen the case "very gratifying" on Monday, and said she and her clients hoped justice could be served, noting that prosecutors would need to move quickly in light of statute of limitations expiring next year.
Assange's allies react
Julian Assange's Swedish lawyer Per E. Samuelsen told Swedish broadcaster SVT on Monday he was "very surprised" by the decision to reopen the case.
"I do not understand the Swedish prosecutor's ... reasoning for reopening a 10-year old case," he said.
WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hraffnson said Monday that Sweden's "investigation has been dropped before and its reopening will give Julian a chance to clear his name." Hrafnsson argued that the "case has been mishandled throughout," and claimed there had "always been political pressure surrounding" it.
How we got here
Assange left Sweden for Britain in September 2010. In November that year, a Stockholm court approved a request to detain Assange for questioning.
The Australian secret-spiller took refuge at the Ecuadorian Embassy in June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden,to the U.S.
After almost seven years holed up in the building he was arrested by British police April 11 after Ecuador revoked his political asylum, accusing him of everything from meddling in the nation's foreign affairs.
Assange faces a maximum of four years in prison in Sweden.
He is currently in London's Belmarsh Prison serving a 50-week sentence for jumping bail in 2012. He is also being held on a U.S. extradition warrant for allegedly hacking into a Pentagon computer in conjunction with former U.S. intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.