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Decision to drop charges against Empire actor Jussie Smollett a 'whitewash of justice'

Prosecutors say a decision to drop charges against Empire star Jussie Smollett does not mean they no longer believe he staged a racial and homophobic attack against him in January.

Smollett had been accused of hiring two men to stage a racist and homophobic attack on him in central Chicago on January 29.

In a short statement outside court, Smollett said it been had an "incrediably difficult time" and thanked family, friends and the "state of Illinois for attempting to do what's right."

"I have been truthful and consistent on every level since day one. I would not be my mother's son if I was capable of one drop of what I've been accused of," he said.

But prosecutors said the decision to drop charges against Smollett does not mean they no longer believe he staged the attack.

First Assistant State's Attorney Joseph Magats told reporters prosecutors "stand behind the investigation and the facts", and added that "this was not an exoneration".

The mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel said it was "a whitewash of justice".

Chicago's police superintendent Eddie Johnson also contested the decision, claiming Smollett "committed this hoax, period".

He added: "If he wanted to clear his name, the way to do that is in a court of law so everyone can see the evidence.

"I stand by the facts of what we produced. If they want to dispute those facts then the place to do that is in court, not in secrecy."

Smollet faced 16 charges over the alleged ‘staged hate attack’. Credit: AP

Smollett had told police in late January that he was physically attacked by the pair while getting food from a Subway restaurant at 2am.

The actor said the men shouted at him, wrapped a rope around his neck and poured an "unknown substance" on him.

Police said Smollett, who is black and gay, told detectives the attackers also yelled he was in “MAGA country,” an apparent reference to President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan that some Trump critics have decried as racist and discriminatory.

The men alleged to be involved were arrested at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport as they returned from Africa and their apartment was searched the following day.

After an investigation, Chicago police said Smollett recruited the two men to stage the attack because he was upset with his pay on the Fox show.

Speaking to reporters outside the courthouse, Smollett said: "I would like nothing more than to just get back to work and move on with my life, but make no mistakes, I will always continue to fight for the justice, equality and betterment of marginalised people everywhere."

A spokeswoman for Cook County prosecutors did not immediately respond to messages requesting comment.