We haven’t heard much out of accused rapist and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in recent months. After all, he’s been hiding behind Ecuador’s embassy in London since June, all the while knowing if he leaves the property, he will be arrested and sent to stand charges for sexual assault in Sweden.
But today, after the European Commission upheld a block on processing credit card donations for his organization, WikiLeaks, Assange made a brief appearance and promptly expressed surprise that the ruling didn’t fall in his favor. He had claimed the blocks were in violation of EU anti trust rules. He said this ruling has effectively “wiped out” 95% of WikiLeaks’ revenue. WikiLeaks lost more than $50 million in potential donations after Visa Europe, MasterCard and American Express blocked payments to the anti-secrecy group, according to Assange.
Assange said WikiLeaks and its payment-services provider DataCell want European Union antitrust regulators to reconsider a preliminary decision that didn’t force credit card networks to process payments anyway and to do so because the credit card companies violated many rules outlined in various international banking and finance laws.
Not only did Assange speak of his surprise, he also said he believes the “hard right politicians in the United States” were behind the ruling.
It is concerning that hard-right elements in the United States have been able to pressure Visa and Mastercard into introducing a blockade that the US Treasury has rightly rejected.
He said efforts here in the U.S. resulted in an “economic death sentence”. Assange is one of those people who people love deeply or hate with passion and sentiment here in the states is of the latter. And there is no shortage of folks who feel if an economic death sentence is all he receives, it won’t be nearly enough – though it will be a start.
Assange then said he hoped, though wasn’t confident, that a formal investigation wasn’t ordered. Still, he says he will continue his fight. At stake is approximately $50 million in credit card donations that American Express, Visa and MasterCard are refusing to process on the organization’s behalf. Now it looks like he has no other alternatives for forcing the card companies to process the payments.
He expressed his gratitude to the Ecuadorian embassy for “protecting” him and over the granting of political asylum.
My stay here in the Ecuador Embassy, while difficult in many ways – at least I am able to continue my work to some degree.
He then told reporters that WikiLeaks could be at least 20 times bigger if it was not for the economic blockade. The blockade, of course, being the refusal of the world’s biggest credit card issuers to process payments to WikiLeaks or Assange.
It means we have to reduce our publications. We cannot expose war crimes and other forms of abuse.
WikiLeaks drew harsh condemnation from the U.S government for posting thousands of classified documents on its website, including U.S. embassy communication documents at at least one military video of a July 2007 helicopter attack in Iraq that killed a Reuters television cameraman and his driver.
When asked, he said that his staff has taken a forty percent pay cut, but that he had no plans of shutting WikiLeaks down. Other questions, however, he refused to answer, including questions about his health or his extended stay at the embassy. He said it was a matter of diplomacy and refused to elaborate further.
In recent months, the company that collected donations for the organization, DataCell, had filed complaints to the Commission about Visa Europe, MasterCard Europe and American Express after they ceased processing donations for WikiLeaks in December 2010. It should be noted that DataCell hasn’t been blocked from accepting card payments for its own services or for any others, with the exception of WikiLeaks. A DataCell spokesperson said the EU will make a final decision after considering DataCell’s response. Andreas Fink, who is the chief executive officer of DataCell, said in an e-mail that every credit card processor the company had attempted to partner with “rejected us due to our processing for WikiLeaks.”
Before being accused by two women in Sweden of sexual assault, U.S. lawmakers were looking for ways to hold him accountable for releasing sensitive cables that many said compromised the safety of Americans abroad. Meanwhile, Assange did what he does best: publish otherwise personal paperwork. This time, it’s the details of the EC’s ruling regarding the credit card case.
Spokespersons for MasterCard, Visa Europe and American Express all declined to comment on the ruling.
Philipp Bruchert, a spokesman for MasterCard in Brussels, and Mark Hooper, a spokesman for Visa Europe in London, declined to comment. A representatives for American Express declined to immediately comment.