A Swedish judge has rejected a request to detain Julian Assange in absentia, complicating hopes to extradite him from the UK.
Prosecutors said Assange had not co-operated with their investigation into a 2010 allegation of rape against the Wikileaks founder, and so should be remotely held for questioning.
This would have allowed them to move forward with steps to extradite him.
But the judge rejected the motion, as Assange is already detained in the UK.
Detention in absentia is an ordinary procedure in Swedish law if a person is abroad or in hiding, and would allow the prosecution to issue a European Arrest Warrant and bring him to Sweden.
Speaking after the ruling, Eva-Marie Persson – Sweden’s deputy director of public prosecutions – said the rape investigation would continue, and she would instead issue a European Investigation Order to question Assange.
The Australian claimed political asylum in London’s Ecuadorean embassy seven years ago to avoid extradition to Sweden over the rape allegation, which he has repeatedly denied.
Swedish prosecutors reopened their investigation in May a month after Assange was arrested and removed from the embassy.
The Wikileaks founder, who is in jail for breaching UK bail conditions, is also facing extradition to the US on federal conspiracy charges related to leaks of government secrets.
If convicted on all counts, Assange could be sentenced to 175 years in prison.
Should Sweden allow an extradition request, it would be up to the UK where he would eventually be sent.
Last week UN Special Rapporteur Nils Melzer said the 47-year-old had suffered “prolonged exposure to psychological torture” and urged the UK not to extradite him.
UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt however said Assange “chose to hide” from justice and asked Mr Melzer to “allow British courts to make their judgements without his interference”.