Julian Assange could be sent back to Sweden to face rape claims

Sweden's Vice Chief Prosecutor Eva Marie Persson said a preliminary investigation would be reopened

Sweden's Vice Chief Prosecutor Eva Marie Persson said a preliminary investigation would be reopened Credit Anders Wiklund EPA-EFE REX

His lawyers said he feared that should he go to Sweden, authorities could hand him over to the United States to face prosecution over the WikiLeaks case.

"My client feels great gratitude and she is very hopeful about getting restitution and we both hope that justice will win".

Prosecutors in Sweden have reopened their investigation into a 2010 rape allegation against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, a first step toward seeking his extradition to Sweden.

The United States also wants to extradite Assange from the UK over his alleged role in one of the largest leaks of classified military and diplomatic material in U.S. history.

Persson said Monday that although she would not discuss evidence, she believed there was "probable cause" for the suspicions against Assange.

Persson said she would reinterview witnesses as part of the investigation.

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Media captionVideo footage shows Julian Assange being dragged from the Ecuadorian embassy in London What is the Swedish investigation about?

- September 2010: Sweden's director of prosecutions reopens rape investigation.

Persson said her decision to reopen the preliminary investigation should not be seen as an indication on whether or not she intends to prosecute Assange, which she said would be a question for a later date.

"Its reopening will give Julian a chance to clear his name".

He is now in London's Belmarsh Prison serving a 50-week sentence for jumping bail in 2012.

The original rape case against Assange was opened in 2010 after allegations made by two women, but was dropped seven years later because Assange was hiding in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London fearing extradition to the USA over WikiLeaks' activities.

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Nick Vamos, lawyer at London-based firm Peters & Peters and former head of extradition at Britain's Crown Prosecution Service, told Reuters before Monday's decision that he expected a Swedish request would take supremacy. American authorities are seeking to prosecute Assange for attempting-unsuccessfully-to help Chelsea Manning crack the password to a USA military computer.

Persson said it was "impossible to predict" how the extradition process would unfold.

Julian Assange's Swedish lawyer Per E. Samuelsen told The Associated Press on Monday that the decision to reopen the case is "outrageous". Assange is now in a British prison, where he's being punished for eluding a similar warrant in 2012. It was the Swedish prosecutor who for years refused to question Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy: they only did so, in November 2016, after the Swedish courts forced the prosecutor to travel to London.

Separately, US authorities have charged him with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion and have sought to extradite him to America. "He will serve 25 weeks before he is eligible for release".

Following his arrest, the lawyer for one of the two women who have accused him of sexual assault asked for resumption of the investigation, which had been shelved because Assange was unavailable for questioning in person.

In 2010 an arrest warrant was issued for the Australian for two separate allegations - one of rape and one of molestation - after he visited Sweden for a speaking trip.

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