A Swedish appeals court upheld the arrest warrant for Julian Assange on Friday over a rape accusation, prolonging the six year long legal standoff with prosecutors and clearing the way for the Wikileaks founder to be questioned in London next month.
Assange, 45, is wanted by Swedish authorities for questioning over allegations, which he denies, that he committed rape in 2010.
“The Court of Appeal shares the assessment of the District Court that Julian Assange is still suspected on probable cause of rape,” the court said.
“There is a risk that he will evade legal proceedings or a penalty,” it announced in its statement.
The 45-year-old Australian has been holed up in the Ecuadoran embassy in London since June 2012, seeking refuge there after exhausting all his legal options in Britain against extradition to Sweden.
Assange has refused to travel to Stockholm for questioning. He says he fears further extradition to the United States, where a criminal investigation into the activities of Wikileaks is ongoing.
His Swedish defense lawyer, Per Samuelsson, said he would appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
“We are naturally disappointed that Swedish courts yet again choose to ignore Julian Assange’s difficult life situation,” Samuelsson told The Associated Press. “They ignore the risk that he will be extradited to the United States.”
The court said the lengthy deadlock and the previous passivity of Swedish prosecutors in pursuing the investigation were arguments for setting aside the warrant, but there remained a strong public interest argument for it remaining in place.
“At present, continued detention therefore appears to be both effective and necessary so as to be able to move the investigation forward,” the court said.
Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny hailed the decision.
“The public interest in having the investigation proceed still carries a lot of weight, in our opinion. The court has here shared our opinion that upholding the arrest warrant is in line with principle of proportionality,” she said in a statement.
Ecuador has set an October 17 date for questioning Assange at its London embassy.
Swedish prosecutors have said the questioning will be conducted by an Ecuadorian prosecutor.
The latest request by Assange to have the warrant for his arrest overturned came after a U.N. panel in February said his stay at the Ecuadorian embassy equaled arbitrary detention, that he should be let go and be awarded compensation.