WikiLeaks claims victory as credit card donations flow again

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - International credit card donations to WikiLeaks are flowing again after an Icelandic court ruling forced MasterCard’s and Visa’s local agent to process payments, the anti-secrecy organization said on Wednesday.

MasterCard and VISA credit cards are seen in this illustrative photograph taken in Hong Kong December 8, 2010. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

One of WikiLeaks’ most important sources of funding - donations made from Visa and MasterCard users around the globe - was cut off in 2010 when the firms stopped processing donations to WikiLeaks’ only direct credit card payment line, located in Iceland.

Their move came after criticism by the United States of the anti-secrecy organization’s release of thousands of sensitive U.S. diplomatic cables, which embarrassed Washington.

The online payment service PayPal, also among the firms that suspended WikiLeaks accounts used to collect donations, said at the time it had acted at the behest of the U.S. government, which deemed WikiLeaks’ activities illegal in the United States.

“This is in my mind a big victory in the ongoing battle against the financial companies that have attacked us,” WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson said by telephone from New York.

He declined to say how many new donations had arrived. The companies handling payments also confirmed that credit card lines had been opened. Hrafnsson added that WikiLeaks’ PayPal account remained frozen.

DataCell, the Icelandic data hosting provider that deals with WikiLeaks’ payments, announced only this week that donation lines were open after uncertainty, following the Icelandic Supreme Court’s decision in April, that credit card firms had complied.

“We have had donations from around the world,” DataCell’s chief executive Andreas Fink told Reuters.

Fink said DataCell had been processing about 70,000 euros a day in donations for WikiLeaks just before the blockade. Iceland has been a key location for WikiLeaks due to its record of protecting Internet freedom.

WikiLeaks said its donations had plummeted 95 percent after it was cut off by the world’s two largest credit and debit processors, even though it found some workarounds through third parties.

DataCell won a Supreme Court ruling against Visa’s and MasterCard’s local partner, Valitor, in April.

“We can continue to process donations for WikiLeaks for as long as we like,” said Fink. “There has never been anything illegal. We have done normal business with a normal entity.”

WikiLeaks said it had confirmation that MasterCard had decided to reverse its decision to block direct donations to WikiLeaks in Iceland. Visa Europe told Reuters earlier on Wednesday that Valitor would also comply with the court order.

The donations are used to pay for WikiLeaks’ servers, salaries and other operational costs.

Hrafnsson said on Wednesday that he did not foresee any WikiLeaks funds reaching former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, holed up in a Moscow international airport, whom WikiLeaks is helping to try to obtain asylum.

A former director at DataCell said recently he would send a private plane for Snowden, wanted by Washington for espionage after divulging classified details of U.S. phone and Internet surveillance, if Iceland granted him asylum.

Legal costs for WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange come from a separate fund, Hrafnsson said.

Assange, who fled to Ecuador’s embassy in London last year to avoid extradition to Sweden to face rape and sexual assault allegations, has said the financial blockade cost WikiLeaks in excess of $20 million.

Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Kevin Liffey