Julian Assange may finally be questioned soon in connection with rape allegations dating back to the summer of 2010 under a new deal struck between Ecuador and Sweden.
Swedish prosecutors have been trying to question Assange in connection with allegations of rape and sexual assault made by two women following a trip the WikiLeaks founder made to the country in 2010. Assange was given permission to leave Sweden on the proviso he returned for further questioning, but then failed to do so when authorities asked.
Sweden and Ecuador have been tied up in diplomatic wrangling since August 2012, when Assange fled to Ecuador's London embassy after exhausting his legal options to avoid extradition from the UK to Sweden.
Documents revealed by BuzzFeed News in October revealed that an earlier deal between Assange and Swedish authorities, to enable him to be questioned in the embassy, had been thwarted by Ecuadorian officials who were unwilling to grant permission without a formal treaty between the two nations.
The diplomatic tussle centred on whether Sweden would sign a new treaty with Ecuador relating to preconditions on how the Assange case would be handled. Sweden refused to sign any treaty relating to specific cases, saying such a deal would be "not customary" and "redundant".
The deal announced this week appears to be a compromise between the two nations: Ecuador and Sweden now have a bilateral deal on cooperation in criminal cases, but Sweden is able to insist that Assange is coincidental to the deal.
"This is essentially a deal on legal assistance on a criminal matter, and when it is finalised later this week it will open the door for the Swedish state prosecutor to question Mr Assange," Cecilia Riddselius, a Swedish justice official, told AFP.
Riddselius emphasised to the agency the deal was not specific to the Assange case.
The deal comes too late for Assange to face questioning over several of the accusations he faced, however. Assange's arrest warrant said he was suspected of rape and three counts of sexual misconduct.
However, the three sexual misconduct charges ran past Sweden's statute of limitations in August of this year, and so he can now face no action in connection with them. Sweden and Assange's earlier deal would have allowed him to be questioned in relation to these allegations, had Ecuador allowed the talks.
There is at present no date announced for Assange to be questioned, but Swedish authorities have indicated it is unlikely to happen before the new year.
James Ball is a special correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London. PGP: here
Contact James Ball at James.Ball@buzzfeed.com.
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