Credit card blockade of WikiLeaks donations likely to be legal, EU says

Credit card companies should not be allowed to impose an 'economic death penalty,' WikiLeaks' Assange says

By Loek Essers and Jennifer Baker, IDG News Service |  Internet

A blockade on WikiLeaks payments processor DataCell by Visa, MasterCard and American Express is unlikely to violate E.U. competition rules.

MasterCard, Visa and American Express, among others, stopped processing payments for WikiLeaks when it started releasing about 250,000 secret U.S. diplomatic cables in 2010. This made it hard to raise funds, and WikiLeaks has said the blockade resulted in a 95 percent donations reduction, which cost the organization more than US$50 million.

DataCell, the company that processed WikiLeaks donations until the blockade started, last year filed a complaint with the European Commission, suggesting the blockade is a violation of European competition rules.

The Commission, however, does not think that is the case. "On the basis of the information available, the Commission considers that the complaint does not merit further investigation because it is unlikely that any infringement of E.U. competition rules could be established," an official of the European Commission said in an email on Tuesday.

The Commission said it looked at the impact of the blockade on DataCell and at the impact on the markets in which it operates. "It appears that DataCell is not prevented from accepting card payments for its own services or for the benefit of other parties; it is only payments for the benefit of WikiLeaks that DataCell cannot process. It seems unlikely that this would lead to harmful effects to competition and to consumers on the payment services markets concerned," the official said.

It is unclear when the Commission will issue a final decision. "We never announce that in advance," the official said.

WikiLeaks' founder, Julian Assange, was displeased with the news. "These companies should not have the power to impose an economic death penalty," he said during a news conference that was available via a live video link in Brussels. Assange is in self-imposed political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid being extradited to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning related to accusations of committing sexual offenses.

Assange accused "hard-right" U.S. politicians of being behind the blockade. He said Peter King, a Republican from New York and chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security, had tried to have WikiLeaks listed as a foreign terrorist organization. "We are not a terrorist organization, but we cannot even pay our lawyers in South America directly because Bank of America blocks the transactions," Assange said.

The famously flamboyant Assange also hit out at the "rather theatrical" attacks on WikiLeaks by Senator Joseph Lieberman, an Independent from Connecticut, and said that MasterCard Europe had acknowledged having conversations with Lieberman.

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