Swedish prosecutors seek to question WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in UK

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, pictured in 2014.

Story highlights

  • Lawyer for Assange says they view the request positively but will have to discuss response
  • Swedish prosecutors will ask Julian Assange's lawyers if they can question him in London
  • He is wanted for questioning over sexual abuse claims in Sweden; he denies the allegations

(CNN)Swedish prosecutors have asked Julian Assange's legal representatives whether the WikiLeaks founder would consent to be interviewed in London and have his DNA taken via a swab.

Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where prosecutors want to question him about 2010 allegations that he raped one woman and sexually molested another.
    Swedish prosecutors have previously balked at coming to Britain to question Assange.
    However, a number of the crimes Julian Assange is suspected of will be subject to a statute of limitation in August 2015, according to a statement from Marianne Ny, the director of public prosecutions.
    "If Assange gives his consent, the prosecutor will promptly submit a request for legal assistance to the British authorities to further continue the investigation," the statement said.
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    A request will also be made to the Ecuadorian authorities for permission to "perform investigative measures" at its London embassy, the statement said. Ecuador granted Assange political asylum in 2012.
    Assange's defense lawyer, Per E. Samuelsson, said he called Assange on Friday morning with the news from the prosecution authority -- and that in principle they viewed the request positively.
    "I think I woke him up, but he knew I was calling with news about the case since I called so early," Samuelsson said.
    "He was, of course, very happy that something is finally happening but he is irritated that it has taken such a long time."
    This is a step that Assange and his team have been requesting for four years, Samuelsson said.

    Prosecutor: 'Time is of the essence'

    Ny explained the logic behind the Swedish authorities' change of approach in her statement.
    "My view has always been that to perform an interview with him at the Ecuadorian embassy in London would lower the quality of the interview, and that he would need to be present in Sweden in any case should there be a trial in the future," Ny said.
    "This assessment remains unchanged. Now that time is of the essence, I have viewed it therefore necessary to accept such deficiencies to the investigation and likewise take the risk that the interview does not move the case forward, particularly as there are no other measures on offer without Assange being present in Sweden."
    The Australian national has not been charged and denies the claims. He's said 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.

    Lawyer: 'It might take some time'

    Samuelsson said Assange's legal team would travel over to London as soon as possible to discuss Ny's request and that it expects to respond next week.
    "The problem is that there are two more countries involved in this request so it might take some time to make all this happen," Samuelsson said.
    Samuelsson also said Friday's development was not a great surprise since Sweden's Supreme Court had last week asked the prosecutor general for an opinion on the case.
    "We think that the prosecutor general, who has taken over the case, probably told Prosecutor Ny to interview Assange in London," he said.
    Assange has previously said the arrest warrant should be thrown out because, in part, Swedish authorities declined to interview him at the Ecuadorian Embassy, thereby prolonging a preliminary investigation that he said should have concluded long ago.
    London's Metropolitan Police said last month that the cost of the operation to guard the embassy to prevent Assange fleeing had spiraled to more than 10 million pounds ($15.3 million.) overall