Julian Assange has said he will remain inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London in order to avoid extradition to the United States, despite being told he no longer faces a sex investigation by the Swedish authorities.
The WikiLeaks founder hailed the decision to discontinue the seven-year case against him as an “important victory”, but said the “proper war was just commencing”, after the Metropolitan Police said he would still be arrested if he stepped outside.
Assange, who has been holed up in the embassy since June 2012 is wanted by the British authorities after breaching bail conditions five years ago.
Addressing a crowd from the embassy’s balcony in central London, Assange accused the UK authorities of ignoring international laws on asylum, a position he described as “untenable”.
He said: “We have today won an important victory, but the road is far from over. The proper war is just commencing.”
“The claim that the UK has the right to arrest me for seeking asylum in a case where there have been no charges is simply untenable.
“My legal staff have contacted the UK authorities and we hope to engage in a dialogue about what is the best way forward.”
But a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police explained there was still an outstanding warrant for his arrest over the breach of bail conditions and therefore he would be detained if he ventured out of the diplomatic building.
The maximum sentence for beraching bail is 12 months and legal sources said the courts might seek to make an example of him.
But Assange’s greatest fear remains the possibility that he could still be extradited to the United States for his role in the publication of leaked classified material on the WikiLeaks website.
Last month, the American Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, said that Assange’s arrest remained a priority for his department and if convicted he could be jailed for up to 45-years.
Prosecutors have reportedly been asked to outline possible charges against him and officials in Washington have insisted the case remains ongoing.
Last night the UK Home Office refused to confirm or deny whether the United States had already submitted an arrest warrant for Assange.
Asked if Britain would now support a request to extradite him to the United States, Prime Minister Theresa May said: “We look at extradition requests on a case-by-case basis. In relation to Julian Assange, any decision that is taken about UK action in relation to him were he to leave the Ecuadorian Embassy would be an operational matter for the police.”
Outlining the current position a Scotland Yard spokesman said: “Westminster Magistrates’ Court issued a warrant for the arrest of Julian Assange following him failing to surrender to the court on June 29 2012.
“The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) is obliged to execute that warrant should he leave the Embassy.
“Whilst Mr Assange was wanted on a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) for an extremely serious offence, the MPS response reflected the serious nature of that crime.
“Now that the situation has changed and the Swedish authorities have discontinued their investigation into that matter, Mr Assange remains wanted for a much less serious offence. The MPS will provide a level of resourcing which is proportionate to that offence.
“The priority for the MPS must continue to be arresting those who are currently wanted in the capital in connection with serious violent or sexual offences for the protection of Londoners.”
The Metropolitan Police stopped its round the clock presence outside the Embassy in October 2015 amid controversy over the escalating cost of the exercise – believed to be more than £12 million.
A spokesman for the Ecuadorean government said it would now step up efforts to allow Assange to leave the embassy and take up an offer of asylum in its country. TELEGRAPH