Prosecutors defend WikiLeaks warrant U-turn

Swedish prosecutors today defended their handling of a rape allegation against the founder of WikiLeaks.

They insisted they had made no mistakes in issuing an arrest warrant and withdrawing it less than a day later.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said the short-lived warrant had damaged his group nonetheless.

The Swedish Prosecution Authority said an "on-call" prosecutor issued an arrest warrant for Assange late on Friday only to see it revoked the next day by a higher-ranked prosecutor, who found no grounds to suspect him of rape.

"The prosecutor who took over the case yesterday had more information, and that is why she made a different assessment than the on-call prosecutor," said Karin Rosander, a spokeswoman for the authority.

She declined to specify what the new material was, but said there was "absolutely nothing" that suggested errors had been made by either prosecutor.

Assange was in Sweden last week seeking legal protection for the website, which angered the US administration by publishing thousands of leaked documents about US military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan.

WikiLeaks is preparing to release a fresh batch of classified US documents from the Afghan war, despite warnings from the Pentagon that they could endanger American soldiers and their Afghan helpers.

Assange, an Australian, remains under suspicion of a lesser crime of molestation, which would not lead to an arrest warrant. Molestation covers a wide of range of offences under Swedish law, including inappropriate physical contact with another adult, and can result in fines or up to one year in prison.

Assange called the allegations "without basis" in a Twitter posting and questioned the motives behind them in an interview with a Swedish newspaper.

The tabloid Aftonbladet quoted Assange as saying the allegations had caused damage even though the rape suspicion was dropped, because WikiLeaks' "enemies" could use them to discredit the site.

"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," he said. "I have also been warned about sex traps."

Assange rejected the molestation accusation and said he has never - in Sweden or elsewhere - "had sex with anyone without the full consent of both parties".

Kristinn Hrafnsson, a WikiLeaks spokesman in Iceland, called the sequence of events related to the arrest warrant too "remarkable" to rule out ulterior motives.

"It is such an unbelievable unfolding of events that it would be unnatural not to consider that there is something behind it," he said.

A small Swedish justice watchdog group, RO, said it had filed a complaint today against the on-call prosecutor to the Ombudsmen of Justice, an office that investigates wrongdoing by public authorities.

The complaint accused her of issuing the arrest warrant "without having enough information to make such a decision", said Johann Binninge, the group's chairman and founder.

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