Wikileaks founder Julian Assange resurfaced yesterday to dismiss as a smear a false rape claim that led to a warrant for his arrest being issued over the weekend then dropped just hours later. But as he remained under investigation in Sweden over a separate allegation of sexual molestation, one of his accusers gave her side of the story to a Swedish newspaper.
The man behind the controversial website that last month released more than 76,000 classified documents about the war in Afghanistan – and plans to release a further 15,000 in the coming weeks – had been visiting Sweden in an effort to secure legal protection for WikiLeaks.
The alleged sexual assault is claimed to have been committed in a Stockholm apartment on the night of 13 August; the discredited rape accusation centred around the nearby city of Enköping. A warrant for Mr Assange's arrest was issued on Friday, and Swedish police are understood to have been searching for him for some 18 hours before the charge was dropped on Saturday afternoon.
After becoming the public face of WikiLeaks in recent months, Mr Assange had admitted he was expecting personal attacks as part of an effort by the political establishment to discredit him. He said he had been warned about "sex traps" and believed the allegations would do "great harm".
He told the Aftonbladet newspaper: "There have been headlines all over the world about my being accused of rape. They won't just disappear. And I know by experience that WikiLeaks' enemies will continue to bandy around things even after they have been renounced. I don't know who's behind this but we have been warned that, for example, the Pentagon plans to use dirty tricks to spoil things for us."
Mr Assange refused to clarify whether he had in fact had sex during his stay in Sweden, saying he did not want to "drag people's private lives through the dirt". But he said he had "never, whether in Sweden or in any other country, had sex with anyone in a way that is not founded on mutual consent."
The anonymous woman accusing Mr Assange of molestation – a term that covers a broad range of offences involving inappropriate physical contact under Swedish law, and can result in fines or up to one year in prison – denied that she was part of a conspiracy. "The charges against Assange are of course neither staged by the Pentagon nor someone else," she said. "The responsibility for what happened to me and the other girl lies with a man who has a skewed perception of women and who has problems taking no for an answer."
Yet she seemed to contradict this by adding: "It is completely wrong to say that we would be afraid of Assange and therefore did not want to report him. He is not violent and I do not feel threatened by him."
The woman told Aftonbladet that both cases had involved mutually consensual sex which had escalated into assaults. "The other woman wanted to report rape," she said. "I gave my story as testimony to her story and to support her. I immediately believed her story, since it was very similar to the experiences I had myself."
A spokesperson for the Swedish prosecuter, Karin Rosander, told The Independent: "I'm not surprised that these rumours come up regarding this very well-known person." But she defended the move to place Mr Assange under arrest, saying the warrant was issued late on Friday by an on-call prosecutor. "The prosecutor who took over the case had more information, and that is why she made a different assessment than the on-call prosecutor."
Additional reporting by Ingrid E Persson