Chaos in the Swedish Prosecution of Assange

Chaos in the Swedish Prosecution of Assange

And remarkably enough, it has nothing to do with Assange himself. On the contrary:

The top Swedish prosecutor pursuing sexual assault charges against Julian Assange has abruptly left the case and one of Mr Assange’s accusers has sacked her lawyer.

The turmoil in the Swedish Prosecution Authority’s effort to extradite Mr Assange comes as another leading Swedish judge prepares to deliver an unprecedented public lecture in Australia next week on the WikiLeaks publisher’s case.

The Swedish Prosecution Authority want to extradite Mr Assange to have him questioned in Stockholm in relation to sexual assault allegations by two women.

Fairfax Media has obtained Swedish court documents that reveal high-profile Swedish prosecutor Marianne Nye has unexpectedly left the handling Mr Assange’s case, effective from Wednesday, and has been replaced by a more junior prosecutor, Ingrid Isgren. The reasons for the change have not yet been disclosed.

One of Mr Assange’s two accusers, political activist Anna Ardin, also applied to the Swedish courts on February 28 to replace her controversial lawyer Claes Borgstrom. Ms Ardin complained that she found Mr Borgstrom spent much more time talking to the media than to her, referred her inquiries to his secretary or assistant, and that she had lost faith in him as her legal representative.

As well as pursuing the prosecution of Mr Assange, Mr Borgstrom has been heavily criticised for his handling of another high-profile case involving an alleged mass murderer, with one prominent Swedish commentator describing him as doing “the worst defence counsel job in modern Swedish history”.

Ms Ardin’s engagement of a new lawyer, Elisabeth Massi Fritz, has now been approved.

News of changes in the Swedish prosecution of Mr Assange comes shortly before Swedish Supreme Court judge Stefan Lindskog delivers a keynote lecture on “the Assange affair, and freedom of speech, from the Swedish perspective” at the University of Adelaide next Wednesday.


Justice Lindskog is chairman of the Supreme Court of Sweden, the country’s highest court of appeal. In announcing his forthcoming lecture, Adelaide University observed that “as one of Sweden’s most eminent jurists, he is uniquely able to provide an authoritative view of the Assange affair”.

In an article in today’s Australian Financial Review the judge observes that he finds it “amusing how the Assange case offers possibilities of sharp turns when it comes to topics to be discussed. From, on the one hand, whether lies about condoms can result in a sexual crime to, on the other, the question of if telling the truth, by publishing classified information, can amount to a crime permitting extradition to the state that claims being harmed.”

Greg Barns, a barrister spokesman for the Australian Lawyers Alliance, said it was a fundamental legal principle that judges do not speak publicly on matters that are likely to come before the courts or are yet to be decided.

“That a Swedish supreme court judge thinks this is acceptable tends to confirm the fears people have about the impartiality and robustness of the Swedish judicial system. It gives great currency to the belief that Mr Assange’s case in Sweden has been heavily politicised.

As I said, chaos. It will be interesting to see what the Swedish judge has to say in Adelaide. If I weren’t currently in the US for the ASIL conference, I would have made the trip to see him speak…

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Jeremy Gans

As the SMH notes, a version of Lindskog’s speech is published in the Australian Financial Review. It’s available online here. The SMH for some reason doesn’t point out that the speech is almost all about Swedish extradition law and the potential charges that might be brought in the US concerning Wikileaks, including Lindskog’s praise of some of the leaks. The one mention of the sexual offence allegations seems totally innocuous. I guess Lindskog would have to recuse himself if the charges are brought and Assange appeals his extradition to the Swedish Supreme Court? Otherwise, so what? (The SMH doesn’t note that Greg Barns ‘the barrister spokesman for the Australian Lawyers Alliance’ is the national campaign director of the Wikileaks party. That was announced in today’s press. Maybe the SMH (or Barns?) didn’t know about that when the SMH article was written.) The replacement of the prosecutor running Assange’s sexual offence charges may be important, but ONLY if the replacement is either connected to that case or reflects on her character or competence. That’s surely speculation at this stage, which may explain why only the Fairfax press is reporting on this development. Maybe Nye’s just gone on leave for a while? Or maybe… Read more »

Catherine Fitzpatrick

If the US wanted to extradite Assange in the last *two years* they could have done it from the UK.
If anything, it sounds like there is less chaos in this case if one of the defendants changes out her controversial and talkative lawyer not serving her defense. If one of the prosecutors is suffering under the strain of being constantly vilified and harassed by WikiLeaks and Anonymous, it’s fine for a fresh person to come in — there’s absolutely no evidence that this means the case will be dropped, as it isn’t the personal whim of that particular prosecutor.
And hey, when were you going to tell us that this fellow Greg Barns, cited here as merely some concerned barrister, is in fact Assange’s political campaign manager?!

Robert Clarke

Don’t know about what significance the speech holds, but none of the other business strikes me as remarkable. If Swedish prosecutors are anything like Australian prosecutors, the file managers change, if not constantly, then certainly from time to time. For a file to be allocated to a less seniour officer when it is effectively gathering dust (since the accused is hiding in an embassy) doesn’t strike me as surprising or ‘chaos’. The fact that someone has changed their lawyer is also pretty ho-hum.