The Swedish prosecutor leading an investigation into a rape allegation against Julian Assange has filed a request with a local court for him to be detained in absentia, The Guardian reports.
If granted, the court order would be the first step in a process to have the WikiLeaks founder extradited from the UK, where he is serving a 50-week sentence for skipping bail.
Sweden reopened the rape investigation last week. It was begun in 2010 but dropped in 2017 after Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
Assange, who denies the accusation, was arrested in London last month after spending seven years inside the embassy.
“I request the district court to detain Assange in his absence, on probable cause suspected for rape,” the deputy chief prosecutor, Eva-Marie Persson, said in a statement on Monday.
She said she would issue a European arrest warrant for Assange to be surrendered to Sweden if the court decided to detain him.
Sweden’s decision to reopen the rape investigation casts doubt on where Assange may eventually end up, with US authorities already seeking his extradition over conspiracy charges relating to one of the biggest leaks of classified information.
A lawyer representing Assange in Sweden said he would tell the district court it could not investigate the prosecutor’s request until he had conferred with his client and learned whether or not he wished to oppose a detention order.
“Since he is in prison in England, it has so far not been possible even to speak to him by telephone,” Per Samuelson told Reuters.