Sweden has dropped its rape investigation against Julian Assange, so what happens next?
Will he finally be able to leave the Ecuadorian embassy?
The strange story of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has taken an unexpected twist, as Swedish prosecutors have announced that they have decided to drop a long-running investigation into an alleged rape committed by him.
45-year-old Assange went into hiding in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London back in August 2012; Ecuador being the only country willing to come forward to offer him asylum.
The prosecutors office released a statement saying: “Chief Prosecutor Marianne Ny has today decided to discontinue the preliminary investigation regarding suspected rape concerning Julian Assange."
A court statement seen by Reuters said that it was believed that there were “no further avenues to pursue to take the investigation forward”.
So what happens next?
This development does not necessarily mean that he will now leave the embassy, despite promising to do so in the past.
UK police said, prior to this announcement, that Assange is still wanted for jumping bail – and they have announced today that Assange will indeed still face arrest. However, for now it looks like his Swedish ordeal is over, although he was never actually charged with any offence, he was merely wanted for questioning.
Assange is believed to have kept himself active during his five-year stay in the embassy by using a treadmill, and has described staff there as “like family”.
Why is he in the embassy in the first place?
Swedish authorities have long sought to interrogate Assange over the allegations, made in 2010 by two women. A request was made by Swedish authorities to extradite him from the UK, and Assange handed himself in to UK police in December 2010 where he was held in solitary confinement for 10 days, before being released on bail and put under house arrest for 550 days under powers granted by an international arrest warrant. He then entered the embassy in August 2012.
Assange maintains that the Swedish allegations are motivated by a desire by the US to extradite him there once he is on Swedish soil, in order that they can charge him for the release of classified information on WikiLeaks.
What has WikiLeaks been up to recently?
The site has come under fire in recent years for appearing to veer towards undue Russian influence given Assange’s fears of US retribution.
Assange wrote in February 2016: "I have had years of experience in dealing with Hillary Clinton and have read thousands of her cables. Hillary lacks judgement and will push the United States into endless, stupid wars which spread terrorism [...] she certainly should not become president of the United States."
In July that year, the site hosted the famous Clinton private server emails, which were widely credited with helping her rival Donal Trump win the presidency – a situation which, if an increasing mountain of other evidence proves correct, is the outcome that Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted.