WikiLeaks on Wednesday announced a “new payment gateway” for donors through a non-profit French group Carte Bleue to beat a financial blockade imposed by leading western financial institutions, including VISA, MasterCard, PayPal and Western Union, shortly after it started publishing secret American diplomatic cables in 2010.
Describing the blockade as “unlawful” and “politically motivated”, WikiLeaks said it was “open for donations” again and appealed to potential donors to “make use of this avenue immediately before VISA/MasterCard attempts to shut it down”.
A previous attempt by WikiLeaks to access donations through an Icelandic payment processor DataCell was shut down by Visa but last week a court in Iceland ordered that the blockade must be lifted by July 26 or Visa would face a heavy fine.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said the group was “ready for the fight” if Visa tried to interfere with its new payment plan.
In a statement from London’s Ecuadorian embassy, where he is holed up after seeking political asylum to avoid extradition to Sweden over allegations of sexual assault, he said: “We beat them in Iceland and, by God, we’ll beat them in France as well. Let them shut it down. Let them demonstrate to the world once again their corrupt pandering to Washington. We’re waiting. Our lawyers are waiting. The whole world is waiting. Do it.”
Announcing the move, WikiLeaks said: “The French credit card system, Carte Bleue, is coupled with the VISA/MasterCard system globally. VISA and MasterCard are contractually barred from directly cutting off merchants through the Carte Bleue system. The French non-profit FDNN (Fund for the Defense of Net Neutrality- Fonds de Défense de la Net Neutralité) has set up a Carte Bleue fund for WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks advises all global supporters to make use of this avenue immediately before VISA/MasterCard attempts to shut it down.”
It said it had lost more than 95 per cent of donations because of the blockade costing it in excess of $20 million. A report on the WikiLeaks finances released on Wednesday illustrated “the financial consequences of 18 consecutive months of economic censorship”.
“For the year 2011, the blockade resulted in WikiLeaks’ income falling to just 21% of its operating costs,” it said.
Last year, WikiLeaks was forced to suspend its activities temporarily as it feared running out of funds. It said it was pursuing “several actions” including taking Visa, MasterCard, and their local European partners to court.
“A European Commission preliminary investigation into the blockade was started in July 2011. A Commission decision on whether to pursue the financial services companies involved in the blockade is expected before the end of August,” it said.
The blockade has been condemned by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Frank William La Rue, the European Parliament and media watchdogs such as Reporters Without Borders as an attack on freedom of expression.