Swedish prosecutors have asked to question the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been living for nearly three years, about rape and sex assault allegations by two women.
Officials performed the U-turn yesterday after years of refusing Mr Assange's offer to be interviewed in the UK in an attempt to break the deadlock in the case. Most of the potential charges against the activist would expire under the statute of limitations in August, although they have until 2020 to investigate the most serious alleged rape offence. The prosecutors also want to take a DNA sample.
The 43-year-old Australian, who denies all the charges, has been wanted in Sweden since the allegations were made against him in August 2010. He faces one count of unlawful coercion, two counts of sexual molestation and one count of lesser-degree rape alleged to have been committed against two women during a visit to Sweden that month.
Mr Assange arrived at the embassy in June 2012 and was granted political asylum fearing extradition to the US on espionage charges relating to secret documents published by WikiLeaks.
Per Samuelsson, Mr Assange's lawyer, said the activist welcomed the Swedish prosecutors' decision but was irritated it had taken so long. He said there would be formalities to sort out before any interview could be held, which might take "some time". "This is what we have been asking for," said Mr Samuelsson. "We are happy and we see it as evidence that we were right all the time, and the prosecutor was in the wrong."
Following Mr Assange's arrival at the embassy, Scotland Yard officers have been stationed outside waiting to arrest him if he tries to leave.
The Swedish lead prosecutor, Marianne Ny, said: "My view has always been that to perform an interview with him at the Ecuadorian embassy in London would lower the quality of the interview. Now that time is of the essence, I have viewed it therefore necessary to accept such deficiencies in the investigation."
A Foreign Office spokesman said: "As we have made clear previously, we stand ready to assist the Swedish prosecutor, as required."