Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) is a common legal practice in the European Union. It is an agreement between two countries to help cooperation during investigation of alleged crimes. The EU's website states "mutual legal assistance and agreements on extradition are essential for the EU in order to achieve a European area of justice".
The Swedish prosecution has requested Julian Assange's extradition for the purpose of questioning on allegations of sexual misconduct. He is yet to be formally charged with an offense.
Since his arrest, Mr Assange has offered himself to be questioned under the MLA practices, by telephone, video conference, or in person. He continues to retain this offer, even during his current stay at the Ecuadorian Embassy as he awaits a decision on his application for asylum. The Ecuadorians have agreed to letting the Swedish prosecution come to the Embassy to question him.
WikiLeaks' legal adviser Jennifer Robinson met with Sweden's Minister for Foreign Affairs Carl Bildt on July 5 during Almedalen Week, a political conference in Gotland. She discussed with him the allegations against Julian Assange and why Sweden has refused to question him over the past 18 months.
He told me it's not allowed. And when I pointed out that Sweden had only recently done just that in a murder investigation in Serbia, he had no reply.
Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny made similar statements in 2010, saying that Swedish Law prevents Mr Assange being interviewed by telephone or video link, and that both Swedish and British law prevent her from traveling to London to question Mr Assange. Many of the articles containing the latter statement were later removed.
Since Julian Assange has not been formally charged, he does not have the rights of a defendant, i.e. access to the full accusations against him or any of the evidence. Could the fact that he only faces allegations affect the use of MLA law?
The guidelines for getting Mutual Legal Assistance from the UK state the contrary.
In the section entitled "What must be included in a Letter of Request" it states:
A description of the offences charged or under investigation and sentence or penalty
Furthermore, in an "Example Letter of Request" it states:
Supply information on the charge or proposed charge.
A full page of the document is also dedicated to the information needed to request a telephone or video conference call, which includes an address, a possible list of questions, and any formal notification of rights.
Neither Carl Bildt nor Marianne Ny would explain how or why it is illegal under Swedish law to question Mr Assange via telephone, video conference, or in person. With no explanation on their behalf, the EU promoting the use of Mutual Legal Assistance, and a document explaining how to achieve information this way, it opens the door for speculation as to why Sweden refuses to question Mr Assange.
A few days ago, Ecuador's Ambassador to Sweden formally offered Swedish prosecutors the opportunity to question Julian Assange while he is held at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Sweden once again rejected the offer, failing to provide any "meaningful explanation", according to WikiLeaks.
BREAKING: Sweden rejected Assange & Ecuador request to interview him in UK - without any meaningful explanation despite requests for 2 years
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) July 31, 2012
RT's Laura Smith commented on the refusal:
This doesn't really come as a particular surprise. Ever since this case began, almost two years ago now, Julian Assange has been offering to the Swedish Authorities to come to London and question him here, and they've never done that. [...] Maybe what Assange and his legal team and indeed the Ecuadorian diplomats felt could be different this time is that the invitation isn't coming from just Assange himself, it's coming from another state. So he's got another state operating on his behalf, so it's almost like it's on equal terms.
But possibly the reason they have rejected the request is that the Swedish authorities have really backed themselves into a corner. It's been that long now that they've been saying, 'No, we want you to come to Sweden', that they can't now back down and say, 'Okay, we'll come to London after all and interview you'. But also, it really begs the question, does the Swedish prosecutor really want to get to the bottom of this case? It certainly looks as if she doesn't, and if not then, of course, why not?