Whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks has suspended its publication wing in order to launch a new fundraising drive as founder Julian Assange admitted that his organisation could be bankrupt by the end of the year.
In a surprise announcement in central London this afternoon, the 40-year-old Australian transparency fundamentalist detailed how the ongoing embargo against WikiLeaks by a string of American financial companies has cut donations by 95 per cent.
He said WikiLeaks would now concentrate on raising new funds to legally challenge that embargo to stave off the risk of going under entirely.
“If WikiLeaks does not find a way to remove this blockade given our current levels of expenditure we will simply not be able to continue by the turn of the New Year,” he said. “So we have decided to redirect the vast majority of our staff resources into knocking down that blockade.”
WikiLeaks has been under a de facto financial embargo since early December when major US-based payment companies including Mastercard, Visa, PayPal and the Bank of America refused to process donations to the whistle-blowing website following its publication of tens of thousands of classified US embassy diplomatic cables.
WikiLeaks has accused those companies of bowing to political pressure from Washington.
“If this financial attack stands unchallenged, a dangerous, oppressive and undemocratic precedent will have been set, the implications of which go far beyond WikiLeaks and its work,” Mr Assange, dressed in a grey suit and blue trainers, said yesterday. "Any organisation that falls foul of powerful finance companies or their political allies can expect similar extrajudicial action.”
The group said it hoped to bring litigation against a string of financial organisations in the United Kingdom, Australia, Denmark and the United States.
Kristinn Hrafnsson, an Icelandic investigative journalist and one of the few public faces of WikiLeaks other than Mr Assange, detailed how the financial embargo had placed a strangle hold on donations over the past eleven months.
Standing in front of a graph that showed a sharp plummet in finances, he said WikiLeaks received an average of Eur100,000 a month last year. Since December, when the embargo was put into effect, that figure has now been cut to roughly Eur6,000 per month.
The sanctions descended at a time when WikiLeaks was generating headlines all over the world with the explosive release of its cable database. Donations were coming in thick and fast with Eur600,000 alone in the 24 hours after the first cables were released.
“I have to admit that ten months ago I would never have believed that we would be in the position we are in today,” Mr Hrafnsson said. “It’s not about an attack on WikiLeaks, it is an attack on freedom of speech.”
It’s long been known that WikiLeaks has struggled to stay financially afloat and – with the exception of a tranche of documents on Guantanamo earlier this year and the slow drip feed of embassy cables – has not published any new exposes since December. But this is the first time the organisation has publicly detailed its problems in such a public manner.
In an indication of how WikiLeaks is determined to return to publishing, Mr Assange also took the opportunity yesterday to announce that the WikiLeaks website’s encrypted submissions system – which was destroyed by a disgruntled former volunteer in October last year – will be relaunched next month.
“We have had to engineer from scrap a completely new generation submissions system,” he said.
Asked whether any of the new donations raised for WikiLeaks would go towards Mr Assange’s personal defence fund in his ongoing battle against extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over sexual assault allegations, he said: “WikiLeaks collected money has never gone towards the Swedish extradition case which I am subject – a case for which I have not been charged. But that hasn’t stopped our opponents spreading deliberate disinformation in order to reduce the amount of donations coming to this organisation. Bizarrely, you can still make PayPal and Visa payments to the Julian Assange defence fund – because that goes towards lawyers – but you cannot make Visa payments and PayPal payments to WikiLeaks because that goes towards publication.”Reuse content