Julian Assange on the balcony of the Ecuadorean Embassy in central London in 2016. He sought refuge there five years ago after the authorities in Stockholm opened a preliminary rape inquiry against him. (Ben Stansall/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

Prosecutors in Sweden said on Friday that they would drop their rape investigation into Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder who sought refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London five years ago.

The announcement represents a victory for Mr. Assange, 45, an Australian, who became a persistent problem for the Obama administration after he released classified and embarrassing documents from the United States and other countries. But the prosecutors’ decision does not mean that Mr. Assange is in the clear.

In Britain, he still faces a warrant for failing to appear in court, and the Metropolitan Police in London said on Friday that they would arrest Mr. Assange, who has maintained his innocence, if he were to try to leave the embassy.

Moreover, the Justice Department in Washington was reconsidering last month whether to charge Mr. Assange for his role in the disclosure of highly classified information. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on whether it planned to take any action regarding Mr. Assange, and the British government declined to say whether it had received an extradition request from the United States.

As reporters thronged outside the Ecuadorean Embassy on Friday morning, Fidel Narváez, an embassy spokesman, said the country’s officials in London would have no comment because they were awaiting instructions from their Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Marianne Ny, the chief prosecutor in Sweden, made clear that the authorities were not pronouncing Mr. Assange innocent. “I can conclude, based on the evidence, that probable cause for this crime still exists,” she said at a news conference on Friday, which was a court-ordered deadline for prosecutors to respond on the case.

Ms. Ny said that proceeding with the case would require Mr. Assange to be served notice of the charges against him and for him to be present in a Swedish court, both of which were impossible.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Christina Anderson and Dan Bilefsky

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