Sweden withdraws warrant for WikiLeaks founder

STOCKHOLM (AP) – Swedish authorities revoked a short-lived arrest warrant for the founder of WikiLeaks on Saturday, saying a rape accusation against him lacked substance.

Julian Assange, who was believed to be in Sweden, remained under suspicion of a lesser crime of molestation in a separate case, prosecutors said.

The nomadic 39-year-old Australian dismissed the allegations in a statement on WikiLeaks’ Twitter page, saying “the charges are without basis and their issue at this moment is deeply disturbing.”

WikiLeaks is preparing to release of a fresh batch of classified U.S. documents from the Afghan war, despite warnings from the Pentagon that they could endanger American soldiers and their Afghan helpers.

A Stockholm prosecutor issued the arrest warrant on Friday, saying Assange was suspected of rape and molestation in two separate cases. But chief prosecutor Eva Finne withdrew the warrant within 24 hours.

“I don’t think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape,” Finne said in a brief statement.

Karin Rosander, a spokeswoman for the Swedish Prosecution Authority, said Assange remains suspected of molestation, a less serious charge that would not lead to an arrest warrant.

“The prosecutor hasn’t made a decision” on that count, Rosander told The Associated Press. “The investigation continues.”

Molestation covers a wide of range of offenses under Swedish law, result in fines or up to one year in prison.

Assange was in Sweden last week seeking legal protection for the whistle-blower website, which angered the Obama administration by publishing thousands of leaked documents about U.S. military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The first files in Wikileaks’ “Afghan War Diary” revealed classified military documents covering the war in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2010. Assange said Wednesday that WikiLeaks plans to release a new batch of 15,000 documents from the Afghan war within weeks.

The Pentagon has demanded WikiLeaks return all leaked documents and remove them from the Internet.

Assange has no permanent address and travels frequently – jumping from one friend’s place to the next. He disappears from public view for months at a time, only to reappear in the full glare of the cameras at packed news conferences to discuss his site’s latest disclosure.

Assange declined to talk about his background at a news conference in Stockholm a week ago. Equally secretive is the small team behind WikiLeaks, reportedly just a half-dozen people and casual volunteers who offer their services as needed.

A WikiLeaks spokesman, who says he goes by the name Daniel Schmitt in order to protect his identity, told AP in a telephone interview from Iceland that the “extremely serious allegations” came as a complete surprise.

Apart from the comment from Assange, WikiLeaks’ Twitter page had a link to an article in Swedish tabloid Expressen, which first reported the allegations.

“We were warned to expect ‘dirty tricks.’ Now we have the first one,” it said.

On its official blog, WikiLeaks expressed “full support” for Assange and said it “will be continuing its regular operations.”

Assange was in Sweden partly to apply for a publishing certificate to make sure the website, which has servers in Sweden, can take full advantage of Swedish laws protecting whistle-blowers.

He also spoke at a seminar hosted by the Christian faction of the opposition Social Democratic party and announced he would write bimonthly columns for a left-wing Swedish newspaper.

A physics Ph.D, Assange hasn’t shied from taking on both government officials and the press. Media profiles have detailed an unsettled upbringing – the Australian press has reported Assange attended dozens of schools growing up – and he still seems to live on the move, his computer traveling with him in a backpack.

Assange told Der Spiegel in an interview that he likes confronting the powerful. “I enjoy creating systems on a grand scale, and I enjoy helping people who are vulnerable,” he said. “And I enjoy crushing bastards. So it is enjoyable work.”


Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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