Where now for Julian Assange?

by Robin MILLARD

London (AFP) - Prison time in Britain? A new life in Ecuador? Extradition to the United States? Another five years in Ecuador's London embassy? WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's future could now follow many different paths.

Swedish prosecutors said Friday that they were dropping a rape investigation into Assange because there was no reason to believe he would be brought to Sweden in the foreseeable future.

Assange hailed a "victory" and said his lawyers were now seeking a "dialogue" with British authorities about his future but gave no further details and repeated his claim that the US is planning to extradite him for revealing state secrets.

The Australian former computer hacker claimed asylum with Ecuador in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden and has been holed up inside the Ecuadoran embassy ever since.

Police say an arrest warrant remains active for Assange for breaching his bail conditions, after he failed to appear in court to accept his extradition.

Here are the main possible scenarios:

- Fine -

Assange leaves the embassy and is arrested, but moves quickly through the British courts process, before being given a minor fine.

He is then free to go about his business and resume his WikiLeaks work more directly and publicly.

- Jail term -

Assange is arrested and held for months while his case progresses, before being given a prison sentence that could reach a maximum of one year.

- Extradition to the United States -

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said last month that "we will seek to put some people in jail" when asked if arresting Assange was a "priority" for Washington.

But US authorities have never confirmed that they have Assange under investigation or are seeking his extradition.

The challenge would be how to charge Assange. The US government has protected the right of journalists to publish secret materials under the US Constitution's First Amendment.

But in recent weeks several officials from the national security community have begun laying out a case in public that Assange does not qualify as a journalist, alleging he focuses on publishing materials damaging to the United States.

In April CIA Director Mike Pompeo branded WikiLeaks a "hostile intelligence service," saying it threatens democratic nations and joins hands with dictators.

- Extradition to Sweden -

David Allen Green, a law commentator for The Financial Times, suggested that if Assange left the embassy and was arrested, Sweden could resume its case.

He said the case being dropped was "an administrative decision to stop expending resources" when there was "no clear path to extradition".

"If Assange went into British custody then the Swedes may well revisit their decision on proportionality, as extradition suddenly easier," he tweeted.

Marianne Ny, Sweden's director of public prosecutions, said the investigation could be reopened if Assange returns to Sweden before August 2020, when the statute of limitations on the allegations against him ends.

- Safe passage to Ecuador -

Ecuador on Friday urged Britain to grant Assange "safe passage" out of the country.

"The European Arrest Warrant no longer holds. The UK must now grant safe passage to Mr Julian Assange," Foreign Minister Guillaume Long wrote on Twitter.

This possibility could take place only once the English legal system has finished with him for jumping bail.

- Stay put -

Assange stays right where he is, in the red-brick flat at 3 Hans Crescent, continuing his work with WikiLeaks.

His room, which measures 18 square metres (190 square feet), has a bed, computer, sun lamp, treadmill and a microwave, and he has a cat for company.