Swedish prosecutors issued a formal request to hold Julian Assange, currently imprisoned in Britain, on suspicion of rape. Picture: Reuters/Peter Nicholls

Stockholm, Sweden - Swedish prosecutors on Monday issued a formal request to hold Julian Assange, currently imprisoned in Britain, on suspicion of rape -- a first step towards seeking his extradition to Sweden.

Swedish deputy director of public prosecutions, Eva-Marie Persson, said in a statement she had filed a request with the Uppsala district court to have Assange detained in his absence on suspicion of rape.

Detaining someone in their absence is a standard part of Swedish legal procedure if a suspect is outside the country or cannot be located. 

The request follows last week's reopening of a 2010 rape investigation, and Persson added that once the court had granted the request, she would then ask British authorities to transfer Assange to Sweden.

"If the court decides to detain him, I will issue a European Arrest Warrant concerning surrender to Sweden," Persson said.

The Australian whistleblower, who holed himself up in the Ecuadoran embassy in London for seven years to avoid a British extradition order to Sweden, was arrested by British police on April 11 after Ecuador gave him up.

A London court sentenced him on May 1 to 50 weeks in jail for breaching the British order.

The Swedish investigation concerns events which took place in 2010 when a Swedish woman accused Assange of rape, after meeting him at a WikiLeaks conference in Stockholm.

Assange has always denied the allegations.

Swedish authorities closed the investigation in 2017, when Sweden's then director of public prosecutions Marianne Ny argued that since Assange could not be reached, having taken up residence in the embassy, it was not possible to proceed with the probe.

But the investigation was reopened on May 13 following Assange's arrest.

The prosecution authority was unable to say when the detention hearing would take place since this would be up to the court to decide, and that a European Arrest Warrant would only be issued after the court had granted the detention request.

When contacted by AFP, the Uppsala district court, where the request was filed, said the detention hearing had not yet been scheduled.

Assange is already the subject of an extradition request from the United States, where he is wanted for hacking. That request that was only revealed following his arrest in London.

Persson said it would be up to British authorities to decide which country's request should take precedence.

"In the event of a conflict between a European Arrest Warrant and a request for extradition from the US, UK authorities will decide on the order of priority. The outcome of this process is impossible to predict," Persson said.

AFP