The Swedish and Ecuadorean governments have signed a pact that will mean Julian Assange will be questioned about sexual assault and rape allegations against two women in 2010. The landmark deal means that Swedish Police are now much closer to heading to question Assange in London, where he has been taking refuge for over three years.
The 44-year-old founder of WikiLeaks began his stint in the embassy in June 2012 to avoid extradition to the northern European nation. Assange has denied all the allegations in the past.
In August this year, three charges against Assange expired, according to Swedish law, however the remaining indictment will not expire until 2020. The new legal agreement was signed in the Ecuadorean capital of Quito after six months of negotiations on 13 December.
"It is, without doubt, an instrument that strengthens bilateral relations and will facilitate, for example, the fulfilment of judicial matters such as the questioning of Mr. Assange," the foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Al Jazeera.
Assange fears that once extradited to Sweden he could then be sent to the US where he would almost certainly face trial for the publication of sensitive classified and diplomatic documents, videos and communications in one of the world's largest ever data leaks. The UK has accused the Ecuadorian government of interfering in the course of justice by letting Assange stay at the embassy.
When Assange first arrived in the UK, the Metropolitan Police kept guard outside the embassy in Knightsbridge for 24 hours a day – spending close to £13m. Then, in October this year, the police force decided to remove all designated officers.
"This is essentially a deal on legal assistance on a criminal matter, and when it is finalised later this week it will open the door for the Swedish state prosecutor to question Mr Assange," Swedish Justice Ministry official Cecilia Riddselius told AFP news agency on Sunday. Assange has complained before that he needed to leave the embassy for medical treatment but a "safe passage" has been refused, with the UK saying that Assange's arrest warrant still stands.