False rape claim haunts WikiLeaks boss – for a few hours

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The Independent Online

A hue and cry in pursuit of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after Swedish police wrongly issued a warrant for his arrest in connection with a rape claim ended in official red faces after just five hours yesterday. Police said the allegation was "unfounded".

This was not, however, until media around the world had broadcast headlines about Mr Assange being wanted for the serious alleged sex crime. This was soon accompanied by strenuous denials by Mr Assange, and assertions by WikiLeaks that this was the first sortie in the expected "dirty tricks" campaign following the release by the site of thousands of US military documents.

Then, an hour after the warrant was dropped, Swedish prosecutors said that "for the moment" Julian Assange remains suspected of the lesser crime of molestation in a separate case.

The saga apparently began when two women went to a police station in Stockholm on Friday and made complaints about two distinct incidents. Then, yesterday morning, a Swedish newspaper reported that a warrant for Mr Assange's arrest had been issued. This was duly confirmed later in the morning by the Swedish Prosecution Authority. The 39-year-old Australian immediately denied the allegations on WikiLeaks' Twitter page, saying they "are without basis and their issue at this moment is deeply disturbing". Mr Assange also emailed two newspapers – Aftonbladet and Dagens Nyheter – to deny the allegations.

The WikiLeaks founder was in Sweden last week, partly to apply for a publishing certificate to make sure the website, which has servers in Sweden, can take full advantage of Swedish laws protecting whistle-blowers. He also spoke at a seminar hosted by the Christian faction of the opposition Social Democratic Party and announced that he would write bimonthly columns for a left-wing Swedish newspaper. WikiLeaks has angered the Obama administration by publishing thousands of leaked documents about US activities in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr Assange, who is believed to still be in Sweden, also said last Wednesday that WikiLeaks plans to release a new batch of 15,000 documents from the Afghan war within weeks. WikiLeaks commented on the allegations on its Twitter page. Apart from the comment from Mr Assange, the page had a link to an article in the Swedish tabloid Expressen, which first reported the allegations. "We were warned to expect "dirty tricks". Now we have the first one," a tweet said.