November 30, 2010 / 5:24 PM / 7 years ago

BofA may be next WikiLeaks target

<p>People stand at a Bank of America ATM (automated teller machine) in Santa Monica, California, October 18, 2010.Lucy Nicholson</p>

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (Reuters) - Bank of America Corp's shares declined 3 percent on Tuesday amid investor fears the largest U.S. bank by assets may be at the center of WikiLeaks next document release.

On Monday, Julian Assange, founder of the WikiLeaks, said his group plans to release tens of thousands of internal documents from a major U.S. bank early next year, according to an interview posted online by Forbes Magazine.

He declined to identify to Forbes which bank would be the subject of the release, but expected the leak to spawn investigations.

The statement came just one day after Assange's group released 250,000 U.S. government diplomatic and military documents on November 28, and analysts said the timing spooked investors.

BofA's share price "continues to be driven by sentiment and not hard numbers," said Dick Bove, bank analyst with Rochdale Securities in a research note to clients.

In an October 9, 2009 interview, Assange told Computerworld that the group had obtained five gigabytes of data from a Bank of America executive's hard drive.

"Now how do we present that? It's a difficult problem. We could just dump it all into one giant Zip file, but we know for a fact that has limited impact. To have impact, it needs to be easy for people to dive in and search it and get something out of it," Assange told Computerworld.

(A link to the Computerworld story may be found here: bit.ly/hJnRMe)

Mark Stephens, a London lawyer who represents Assange, said that Assange could not be immediately reached for comment on whether the bank documents he told Forbes about were the same Bank of America documents he talked to Computerworld about just over a year ago.

A Bank of America spokeswoman said the bank is aware of WikiLeaks' claims that it has company data, but said it has not been contacted by the group or seen proof it possesses any of the bank's information.

Bove said in his note to clients that he rates Bank of America's stock as a buy and "considerably undervalued."

Bove said many of the bank's problems from the financial crisis have been sorted through, and once investor fears subside, BofA's share price will rise.

U.S. authorities are conducting an intensive criminal investigation into WikiLeaks release of government documents.

The U.S. State Department said on Tuesday it had cut off a U.S. military computer network from its database of diplomatic cables.

WikiLeaks says it is a nonprofit organization funded by human rights campaigners, journalists and the general public. Launched in 2006, it promotes the leaking of information to fight government and corporate corruption.

Previously, WikiLeaks had made public nearly 500,000 classified U.S. files on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Reporting by Joe Rauch; Editing by Tim Dobbyn

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