STOCKHOLM: Swedish police said Saturday they had issued an international arrest warrant for Julian Assange, founder of whistle blowing website WikiLeaks, who is wanted on suspicion of rape and sexual molestation.
"Late last night we gathered all the information and sent it out in the different systems," Tommy Kangasvieri of the Swedish National Criminal Police told AFP.
These are the Swedish system, the Schengen Information System (SIS) — the massive security database for Europe’s border-free Schengen zone — and Interpol, Kangasvieri said.
"The prosecutor had already decided to issue an international arrest warrant. We made sure that all the police forces in the world would see it," Kangasvieri added.
Interpol, based in Lyon in eastern France, said it had received an arrest warrant for the extradition of Assange.
Stockholm district court on Thursday ordered an arrest warrant for Assange, a 39-year-old Australian, for questioning on "probable cause of suspected rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion" in Sweden in August.
The court order allowed prosecutor Marianne Ny, who had requested Assange’s detention, to prepare an international arrest warrant. Assange is currently believed to be in Britain.
WikiLeaks last month published an unprecedented 400,000 classified US documents on the Iraq war and posted 77,000 secret US files on the Afghan conflict in July.
Ny insisted Thursday that arresting Assange was the only way she could be sure of questioning him about the allegations, which he has denied.
Assange’s Swedish lawyer Bjoern Hurtig on Friday filed an appeal against the arrest warrant court order, but the challenge did not suspend the Swedish order or delay the international warrant.
However, Swedish media reported the petition would likely be treated quickly by the appeals court, which could rule on the warrant’s legitimacy in days.
Assange’s lawyer in Britain, Mark Stephens, said the hearing on the warrant was due on Monday, adding that he was "surprised" the Swedish authorities had filed it.
"I am extremely surprised given that there is an appeal listed for Monday.
It seems to me a comprehensive waste of time and smacks of desperation," Stephens told AFP.
He refused to give details of Assange’s whereabouts on Saturday, but has previously said the Australian was in London as recently as Thursday.
Stephens said Assange had offered prosecutor Ny the opportunity to question the WikiLeaks founder "at a Swedish embassy in London, at a police station or by video link" but she had refused.
"The offer he made is still on the table — if Ms. Ny wants to avail herself of the opportunity."
He said that the international arrest warrant had not yet been received by Assange’s lawyers in Sweden or, as far as he was aware, by authorities in relevant countries.
"The next stage is for the relevant authorities to see whether the presented document is valid, and I will look to see if it is valid too," Stephens said.
Ny would not tell Sweden’s TT news agency if she had been in contact with Assange’s lawyers, but defended the arrest warrant procedure as normal.
"The only thing I can say is that we have conducted this investigation in a normal way. We follow the rules and the rulebooks," she said.
Assange has been accused of raping one woman in Sweden and sexually molesting another.
He has strongly denied the charges and hinted that they could be part of a "smear campaign" against his whistleblower website for publishing classified US documents on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.