Wikileaks shuts off publication after funds dry up

The whistleblower group has lost 95 percent of its funding since Visa, MasterCard and PayPal cut off processing of donations, leading Wikileaks to concentrate on lawsuits and fundraising

Whistleblower site Wikileaks has halted its publication of leaked documents, after an embargo by credit-card payment processors caused its funding to plummet.

Julian Assange

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has said the whistleblower site must suspend publication of leaked documents due to financial difficulties. Photo credit: BBC

"We are forced to temporarily suspend publishing whilst we secure our economic survival," Wikileaks said in a statement on Monday. "For almost a year we have been fighting an unlawful financial blockade. We cannot allow giant US finance companies to decide how the whole world votes with its pocket."

For now, the group will focus on fundraising and pursuing lawsuits to get the banking restrictions on donations lifted, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange said on Monday at a Frontline Club press conference in London.

"This financial blockade is an existing threat to Wikileaks," said Assange. "If the blockade is not torn down by the end of the year, the organisation cannot continue in its work."

The banking restrictions have stopped 95 percent of donations to the group, according to Assange. He estimated that Wikileaks has lost tens of millions of dollars in consequence and noted the organisation expects to have costs of $3.5m (£2.2m) next year.

Cut off payments

MasterCard, Visa and PayPal cut off processing of payments made to Wikileaks after the group published hundreds of thousands of confidential US embassy documents. The financial institutions said they had done so because Wikileaks had engaged in illegal activity, and their terms and conditions did not allow this.

For almost a year we have been fighting an unlawful financial blockade. We cannot allow giant US finance companies to decide how the whole world votes with its pocket.

– Wikileaks

In July, Iceland-based data-hosting service provider Datacell, which offered payment gateway services to Wikileaks, said it was again able to handle donations via Visa, MasterCard and American Express. However, this respite lasted only a day.

Wikileaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson, an investigative journalist, told the press conference that Wikileaks is involved in legal cases in the UK, the US, Iceland and Australia to try to have the blocks lifted.

In addition, it has joined an antitrust complaint to the European Commission, made by payments company Datacell against Visa Europe and MasterCard Europe in July. The Competition Unit of the European Commission declined to comment on Monday.

New submissions system

Assange said Wikileaks will open a new submissions system for whistleblowers on 28 November. The system will not rely on digital certificates to validate the submissions process.

"Intelligence agencies have infiltrated a number of certificate agencies," said Assange, citing the example of the DigiNotar breach, which he believes to be connected with the Iranian government.

"This is a problem that affects all online web-based secure transfers of information," he said, claiming "a number of certificate authorities are in effect state controlled".

As an organisation, Wikileaks has about 20 staff and about 800 volunteers, according to Assange. During a major release of documents, the organisation hires more people.

No funds raised by Wikileaks will go towards Assange's ongoing extradition case. The Wikileaks founder is wanted for questioning over sexual coercion allegations in Sweden.

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