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14 Nov, 2016 19:12

Assange ‘finally afforded opportunity’ to give statement to Sweden, complains of ‘irregularities’

Whistleblower Julian Assange says he “cooperated fully” with Swedish investigators during a seven-hour interview inside the Ecuadorian embassy concerning rape charges from 2010. Assange’s legal team also accused the investigators of “procedural irregularities.”

Today, after six years of offering his statement to the Swedish authorities, Julian Assange has finally been given the opportunity to do so,” said a statement released by the WikiLeaks founder Monday evening. “Sweden’s failure to progress the preliminary investigation until now has resulted in a gross breach of Mr Assange’s right to be presumed innocent, and has fatally harmed his ability to meaningfully defend himself.”

Assange’s team complained that his Swedish counsel, Per Samuelson, “was not notified or summoned” for the start of the interview, despite being in London specifically for that very purpose, and that despite “concerns” the authorities “proceeded anyway.

“The clear breach of process did not stop Mr Assange from cooperating fully,” said his statement. “Mr Assange felt compelled to participate even with these problems.”

READ MORE: Assange questioned at Ecuadorian embassy over rape allegation

The interview will continue Tuesday, when prosecutors are expected to actively question Assange. Samuelson earlier said that the entire process could take up to a week, and that his client will be asked to give a DNA sample to the Swedish authorities.

"If the prosecutor considers his statement, and gives it the appropriate weight, of course this should change things, and result in his freedom," said Melinda Taylor, another member of Assange's legal team. "The fact that he has voluntarily submitted himself to questioning shows that it was completely unnecessary to have an arrest warrant."

Assange faces potential, but as yet unfiled, charges over initially consensual trysts gone wrong with two women, during a visit to Stockholm to give a public speech in August 2010. Initial molestation accusations were dropped after the statute of limitations expired, but if proven, the rape charges are valid until 2020, and could result in a likely custodial sentence of up to six years.

The whistleblower has repeatedly protested his innocence, but refused to travel to Sweden to speak to prosecutors, for fear of being extradited to the US, where he is subject to a separate investigation for the 2010 diplomatic cables leaks.

Since 2012, Assange has been a refugee in the Ecuadorian embassy, to avoid extradition to Sweden by the British authorities, but has invited investigators to interview him there.

“The prosecutor initially said it was unlawful, which is not true,” Jen Robinson, one of Assange’s lawyers told the media after Monday’s interview. “In more than 40 cases since 2010 Sweden has made use of mutual legal assistance procedures [international legal cooperation between countries], so this could have been done six years ago. We offered it voluntarily, the prosecutor refused to take it. We offered it through official channels, she refused to take it.”

In February, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) a UN advisory body rules that Assange’s enforced stay at the embassy was “a form of arbitrary detention” and “should be brought to an end, that his physical integrity and freedom of movement be respected, and that he should be entitled to an enforceable right to compensation.”

Despite his confinement, Assange’s public profile remains high, due to a series of WikiLeaks revelations pertaining to Hillary Clinton and her presidential campaign, which may have impacted the course of the American election, in which she lost to Donald Trump.