Swedish law enforcement officials interviewed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange about rape accusations on Monday at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been holed up since 2012.
"Ecuador has granted the Swedish request for legal assistance in criminal matters and the hearing will be conducted by an Ecuadorian prosecutor," said a statement released by Sweden's public prosecutor's office Monday. "A DNA sample will also be taken, provided that Julian Assange agrees to it," the statement continued.
The 45-year-old Australian national was accused of rape and sexual assault in Sweden in 2010.
He has resisted traveling to Sweden because he says authorities may extradite him to the United States, where he faces questions about the leak of more than 500,000 secret files about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Assange's lawyer welcomed the interview. We have requested this interview repeatedly since 2010, Per Samuelsson said.
Julian Assange has always wanted to tell his version to the Swedish police. He wants a chance to clear his name. We hope the investigation will be closed then, he added.
Supporters hope for end to ordeal
Outside the embassy, Assange supporters gathered as he was inside being questioned by prosecutors.
"[Julian Assange] has claimed and been given political asylum which is his right under national and international human rights law. He is willing to answer the questions, Human Rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said.
The question we have to ask is why have the Swedish prosecutors taken so long to come here and ask him those questions, even though they were rebuked way back in 2014 by the Swedish courts for the delays and hesitations. They are here now, Julian Assange will answer those questions, and let's hope that will be an end to it, he added.
An Ecuadorian prosecutor in the presence of Swedish prosecutor Ingrid Isgren led the questioning.
Isgren left the embassy along with a Swedish police investigator. Neither official talked to reporters.
According to officials, no immediate decision on the future of Assange's case will be made on Monday.
But Samuelsson told reporters he had "high hopes" the case will be closed once the investigation is complete. He also criticized not being allowed in the interview room.
"I'm not on the list of persons that Ecuador has drawn up and allowed to be present," he told the Swedish national broadcaster SVT. "An Ecuadorian lawyer has taken up this question as a formal issue in the introduction of the hearing."
Last year, Swedish officials dropped a sexual assault case against Assange after a five-year statute of limitations expired. The 2010 rape allegation carries a 10-year statute of limitation. In September, a Swedish appeals court decided to uphold Assange's arrest warrant.
Assange has maintained both sexual encounters were consensual.
Reports say even if Swedish authorities agree to drop the investigation, the WikiLeaks founder could still be arrested for breaching bail conditions in Britain.
WikiLeaks has made international news in recent months by leaking tens of thousands of hacked emails from the U.S. Democratic Party as well as from staff members from presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign.
Source: Voice of America