WikiLeaks bypasses donations boycott

WikiLeaks has set up new payment gateway in France to bypass a blockade by credit card companies that has dried up the bulk of its donations for a year and a half.

Sets up new payment gateway in France to get around Visa, MasterCard blockade

A screen grab of the WikiLeaks home page urging people to donate money to the organization. The group said its cash reserves have diminished from about $992,000 to less than $124,000 between December 2010 and June 2012 because of a blockade by major credit card and online payment firms.

WikiLeaks has started accepting donations again after a two-year period in which the bulk of its cash contributions were cut off because of a boycott by credit card companies.

MasterCard, Visa, PayPal and other payment and internet companies stopped doing business with WikiLeaks in December 2010 after the group released thousands of classified U.S. diplomatic cables online and in certain newspapers.

The blockade cut off more than 95 per cent of the organization's donations, WikiLeaks said in a press release Wednesday.

The organization said it was launching a "new payment gateway, designed to work around the blockade."

It said the French non-profit organization Fonds de Défense de la Net Neutralité (Fund for the Defense of Net Neutrality) had set up an account for WikiLeaks with France's credit and debit card network Carte Bleue.

Even though Carte Bleue is stil partnered with Visa and MasterCard, the credit card companies are "contractually barred from directly cutting off merchants through the Carte Bleue system," WikiLeaks said.

It urged any potential donors to "make use of this avenue immediately before VISA/MasterCard attempts to shut it down."

Cash reserves diminished

WikiLeaks said in the release that the payment blockade has meant it has had to rely on its cash reserves, which are held by the Wau Holland Foundation, a German charity that manages donations for it and other projects related to technology and freedom of information.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in London in February 2012. He is currently seeking asylum in Ecuador in an attempt to avoid extradition to Sweden to face sexual assault charges. (Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters)

WikiLeaks said its cash reserves have diminished from about $992,000 at the end of December 2010 to less than $124,000 at the end of June 2012.

The organization's income fell to just 21 per cent of its operating costs in 2011, it said.

WikiLeaks has been trying to challenge the payment firms' blockade in the courts and won its first victory last week in Iceland. The Reykjavík District Court ruled that the company that handles Visa and MasterCard payments in Iceland, Valitor, had violated its contractual obligations when it blocked clients from using their credit cards to donate money to WikiLeaks.

It ordered the company to lift the blockade or be fined 800,000 kroner (roughly $6,400) a day.

WikiLeaks has also filed a complaint with the European Commission's directorate-general for competition.

WikiLeaks has also been in the news lately on account of its founder's ongoing battle to avoid extradition from the U.K. to Sweden, where prosecutors want to question him in connection with allegations of sexual assault and rape.

Assange has argued that the extradition is merely an excuse to have him sent on to the U.S., where, he says, authorities want to try to prosecute him for the release of the diplomatic cables. 

Last month, he made a last-ditch effort to avoid the extradition, which was ordered by the U.K. Supreme Court, by seeking political asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.