WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said he could leave the Ecuadorian embassy in London on Friday pending an opinion by a UN panel on his alleged rape case - but Britain said it would have to arrest him.
Assange, who is wanted for extradition on a rape accusation in Sweden and has lived in the embassy since June 2012, said he expected to be treated as a free man if the panel rules in his favour.
In September 2014, Assange filed a complaint against Sweden and Britain to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, claiming his confinement in the embassy amounted to illegal detention.
“Should I prevail and the state parties be found to have acted unlawfully, I expect the immediate return of my passport and the termination of further attempts to arrest me,” he said in a statement on Thursday.
If the UN group rules against me he said “I shall exit the embassy at noon on Friday to accept arrest by British police as there is no meaningful prospect of further appeal,” he added.
The British government said it was under an obligation to arrest him in both eventualities.
“An allegation of rape is still outstanding and a European arrest warrant in place, so the UK continues to have a legal obligation to extradite Mr Assange to Sweden,” a government spokesman said.
Late on Thursday, Sweden’s foreign ministry said the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has ruled that Mr Assange’s confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy in London amounts to illegal detention.
Mr Assange’s Swedish lawyer Per Samuelsson told AFP that a ruling in his client’s favour meant prosecutor Marianne Ny would have to ask a court to lift the arrest warrant issued against him.