Julian Assange has been holed up inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since 2012. And despite recent developments, there’s no indication he’ll be leaving anytime soon.
The building offers him legal protection against extradition to Sweden where prosecutors want to question him about allegations of sexual assault involving two women.
The man famous for founding whistleblowing site WikiLeaks – who seems well on the way to becoming better known as “that guy who lives in the Ecuadorean Embassy” – has always rejected the allegations against him, and says extradition to Sweden would likely lead to extradition to the U.S. where he could be hit with charges in connection with the publication of classified government documents. He says if that happens, he’d have little chance of a fair hearing, although his opponents disagree with this notion.
This week the bizarre story took yet another twist, with Swedish prosecutors saying the country’s statute of limitations laws mean the time limit on the opportunity to bring charges is about to expire. Yes, he’s been in the embassy building that long.
The limit on two assault allegations is up today, while the limit regarding a third accusation will run out next week.
However, an allegation of rape remains, with the statute of limitations on that charge running until 2020. Yes, it’s entirely possible that “that guy who lives in the Ecuadorean Embassy” could be there for another five years. Five more years of self-imposed confinement. If he steps outside at any point, he’ll be arrested and extradited to Sweden to face questioning.
British cops are positioned outside the embassy in the vain hope that Assange gets cabin fever and decides to take a stroll. The cost to taxpayers for monitoring the embassy over the last three years is estimated to have already reached a hefty £12 million ($18.8 million).
Swedish prosecutors for a long time wanted to question the whistleblower in Sweden, where the assaults are alleged to have taken place. Keen to move ahead with the case, they eventually agreed to interview him inside the embassy, but the Swedish government has so far been unable to persuade the Ecuadorian authorities to grant access.
One of Assange’s lawyers, Thomas Olsson, told the BBC: “Our position is that the investigation should have been shut down earlier because there wasn’t enough evidence to keep it going,” adding, “It’s regrettable that it’s gone on for this long.”
It’s nearly a year to the day that Assange told reporters he was about to leave the embassy. But the way things are going, he could – if he refuses to travel to Sweden for questioning or if prosecutors fail to gain access to the embassy – remain inside the building for many more years to come.