- Court agrees with Assange that prosecutors dragged their feet, but says warrant must stay
- Court: There's a great risk Assange will evade legal proceedings if warrant is lifted
- Assange is accused of sexual assault in Sweden
- He has stayed at Ecuadorian Embassy in London, says he fears ultimate extradition to U.S.
A Swedish appeals court on Thursday denied WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's latest request to dismiss an arrest warrant for alleged rape and molestation -- cases that he says are false and politically motivated.
Assange, 43, has been living in London's Ecuadorian Embassy for more than two years to avoid extradition to Sweden, where prosecutors want to question him about 2010 allegations that he raped one woman and sexually molested another.
Assange, who has not been charged, denies the allegations and says he fears Sweden would extradite him to the United States, where he could face the death penalty if he is charged and convicted of publishing government secrets through WikiLeaks.
The Australia native has argued the warrant should be dismissed because, in part, Swedish authorities refuse to interview him at the Ecuadorian Embassy, thereby prolonging a preliminary investigation that he says should have concluded long ago.
The appellate court nodded to this argument, agreeing that "the failure of the prosecutors to examine alternative avenues is not in line with their obligation ... to move the preliminary investigation forward."
But it concluded that, in balance, the arrest warrant must remain in effect because the crimes alleged are serious and because "there is a great risk that he will flee and thereby evade legal proceedings if the detention order is set aside."
"In the view of the court of appeal, these circumstances mean that the reasons for detention still outweigh the intrusion or other detriment entailed by the detention order," appellate judges wrote in Thursday's ruling.
Another appeal expected
Michael Ratner, a U.S. attorney for Assange, expressed dismay over the ruling.
"The court of appeals admits the prosecutor has wrongly failed to move this case forward, but refuses to provide Assange with any remedy. It is astonishing," Ratner said in a news release.
Assange's legal team has said it intends to file an appeal with Sweden's Supreme Court.
Thursday's court decision follows a similar ruling by a lower Swedish court in July.
Assange argues, in part, that the preliminary investigation has been open for an unacceptably long time, and that the arrest warrant improperly keeps him from going to Ecuador, which offered him asylum, or even from going outdoors. Police stand guard outside the embassy, ready to arrest him should he emerge.
Swedish prosecutors say that Assange must be interviewed in Sweden, citing what they say are legal impediments to coercing an interview elsewhere.
Prosecutor Marianne Ny has said that the warrant could remain in place until the statute of limitations takes effect -- five years for unlawful coercion and 10 years for rape.
Assange rocketed to international fame when WikiLeaks began publishing secret government documents online.
After it published the procedures manual for the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay in 2007, it posted documents related to U.S. activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, and diplomatic cables from U.S. embassies.
In August 2010, Swedish prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for Assange over the allegations of sexual assault from two female WikiLeaks volunteers.
He turned himself in to London authorities the same year, and was remanded in custody.
At the time, a judge ruled that he should be extradited to Sweden, and Assange launched a series of appeals that went all the way to the British Supreme Court. It denied his appeal.
In June 2012, Assange fled to the Ecuadorian Embassy to seek asylum, which was granted in August of the same year.
He's been living at the embassy in London since then.