WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange faced questioning on Monday by prosecutors at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been holed up for four years, over allegations he committed rape in 2010.
Swedish Chief Prosecutor Ingrid Isgren arrived at the embassy to pose questions to Assange through an Ecuadorian prosecutor over the allegations which Assange has denied, a Reuters photographer at the scene said.
Assange, who enraged the United States by publishing hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables, took refuge in the embassy in August 2012 to avoid being extradited to Sweden over the rape allegation.
The 45-year-old Australian has refused to go to Sweden for questioning, saying he fears further extradition to the United States, where a criminal investigation into the publication of secret documents by WikiLeaks is ongoing.
In 2010, WikiLeaks published thousands of classified U.S. military and diplomatic documents in one of the largest information leaks in U.S. history.
Isgren and a police investigator will be able to ask questions through the Ecuadorian prosecutor, who will later report the findings to Sweden, prosecutors have said.
“After the report, the Swedish prosecutor will take a view on the continuing of the investigation,” they said.
A Swedish appeals court decided in September to uphold Assange’s arrest warrant, saying a strong public interest argument outweighed a case to set it aside based on the lengthy deadlock and a previous lack of impetus in pursuing the case.
Assange’s request to have the warrant overturned came after a UN panel in February said his stay at the Ecuadorean embassy equalled arbitrary detention, that he should be let go and be awarded compensation.
Even if Sweden drops the investigation, however, Assange could be arrested for breaching bail conditions in Britain.
He has denied wrongdoing and says he fears being extradited to the US because of his WikiLeaks work. It isn’t known if he faces a secret grand jury indictment in the U.S.
The sex crime allegations were made shortly after Assange and WikiLeaks became well known worldwide for releasing hundreds of thousands of pages of classified government documents.
One Swedish woman said Assange intentionally damaged a condom and pinned her down while having sex. A second woman said Assange had sex with her without a condom while she was asleep.
In Sweden, having sex with an unconscious, drunk or sleeping person can lead to a rape conviction punishable by up to six years in prison.
A Swedish investigation into the crimes was launched, then dropped for lack of evidence, and then started again as prosecutors sought to question Assange about possible molestation and rape.
He has remained in control of WikiLeaks, which released hacked emails relating to the Hillary Clinton campaign in the final weeks of her failed White House run.