London, May 31: Britain's Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to Sweden over alleged sex crimes, as it rejected his appeal.
"The request for Assange's extradition has been lawfully made and his appeal against extradition is accordingly is dismissed," said Supreme Court president Judge Nicholas Phillips.
The seven judges were split five to two but the majority ruling was that the Swedish prosecutor was a judicial authority and therefore allowed to issue an arrest warrant for him to be questioned on sex crime allegations.
Assange's entire case rested on the argument that the European arrest warrant issued against him by the Swedish prosecutor was "invalid" because it was not made by a judge.
But in an unexpected twist, Assange's lawyer Dinah Rose asked the judge for the case to be reopened on the grounds that the judgement referred to material that was not mentioned during hearings.
The judge agreed to the request and granted a 14-day period in which Assange's lawyers can apply to reopen the case.
Assange, a 40-year-old Australian, was not in the court in central London to hear the judgement. His supporter John Pilger said he was "stuck in traffic".
The Internet whistleblower, who enraged Washington by releasing a flood of state and military secrets on his website, has been fighting deportation since his arrest in London in December 2010 on a European arrest warrant.
The Supreme Court is his final avenue of appeal under UK law, after two lower courts ruled he should be sent to Sweden for questioning over allegations of rape and sexual assault made by two WikiLeaks volunteers.
But Assange, who has been living under tight restrictions on his movement for 540 days, still has the option of a last-ditch appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, unless his lawyers succeed in re-opening the case in Britain.
Assange does not deny that he had sex with two women in Sweden, but insists the sex was consensual. The women say he raped and sexually assaulted him.
He argues there are political motives behind the attempts to extradite him.
Assange's mother Christine said ahead of the judgement: "It's a 24-hour nightmare because we know he is not safe and the biggest governments in the world are gunning for him."
She told Australian TV that the charges against her son were unfounded but feared that if he was sent to Sweden he could be held "incommunicado, in solitary confinement, before he is even questioned or charged".
Swedish authorities argued before the hearing that if his appeal is granted it could throw the fast-track European arrest warrant system into turmoil, with implications across the continent.
"It is prosecutors who issue arrest warrants (in Sweden). End of story," Karin Rosander of the Swedish prosecuting authority told AFP.
The white-haired former hacker has said he fears his extradition would eventually lead to his transfer to the United States, where US soldier Bradley Manning is facing a court-martial over accusations that he handed documents to WikiLeaks. One week ago, Assange attended a film screening in London wearing a Kevlar Guy Fawkes mask.
"This may be my last time in public, so I thought I should start with a situation where you won't be able to see me anymore," said Assange, who since December 2010 has been forced to report to police daily and wear an electronic ankle tag.
A lower court in Britain initially approved Assange's extradition to Sweden in February 2011.
An appeal to the High Court was rejected in November, but Assange subsequently won permission to appeal to the Supreme Court, which heard two days of complex arguments in February.