WikiLeaks has missed out on around £30million in donations from supporters because of a financial blockade set up by right wing politicians in America, the organisation’s founder Julian Assange has claimed.
Speaking at a rare press conference held inside the Ecuadorean embassy, where he sought asylum nearly six months ago, Mr Assange said that war crimes were remaining secret because of the lack of resources at WikiLeaks.
Mr Assange insisted that WikiLeaks was able to survive but he said the blockade, which sees Visa, Mastercard and other companies refuse to process donations to the organisation, “means we have to reduce our publications. We cannot expose war crimes and other forms of abuse”.
He added that WikiLeaks staff, who he said numbered fewer than one hundred and were based in “most large countries” have taken a 40 per cent pay cut and that he himself has taken no wage from the organisation recently. WikiLeaks, he said, is surviving on the contributions of volunteers.
But he would not release any new details about his stay in the embassy. Appearing in a dark suit and white shirt in a conference room in the Ecuadorean embassy this afternoon, Mr Assange looked in good health. He even joked that he was unsure where he could go as a fire alarm sounded at the end of the press briefing. Police officers remain outside the embassy waiting to arrest Mr Assange if he steps beyond its threshold.
He was reluctant, however, to be drawn when asked by reporters how he was finding his stay in the embassy, where is being protected from attempts to extradite him to Sweden over sexual assault allegations.
He said he was grateful to the Ecuadorian embassy for “protecting” him and over the granting of political asylum. He said: “My stay here in the Ecuador Embassy, while difficult in many ways, at least I am able to continue my work to some degree.”
And he added that his belief that WikiLeaks could be at least 20 times bigger if it was not for the economic blockade. He was speaking after the European Commission indicated it was unlikely to investigate a complaint by a company which collects donations for WikiLeaks.
DataCell has alleged that a refusal by Visa, Mastercard and other companies – which it claims control 97 per cent of the European electronic payments market - to refuse to handle donations to WikiLeaks is anticompetitive. But the European Commission has said it believes the companies are unlikely to have broken any European laws.
Mr Assange said: “We have been living with this banking blockade for two years. The situation is financially difficult, but there is no danger that WikiLeaks will cease as an organisation.”
The blockade had wiped out 95 per cent of WikiLeaks’ revenues but he insisted that the organisation remained “popular”. He said: “five per cent of a lot of people is still a lot of people”.
Today’s development followed a preliminary decision by the commission, with a final decision expected in the next few weeks.
Mr Assange said the documents published by WikiLeaks today showed that “hard-right” politicians in the United States were directly behind the banking blockade.
Exercising a “financial death penalty” over organisations involved in political controversy set a bad precedent for media and other groups around the world, he said. “There is no dispute that this blockade is a political reaction to our publications.”
Mr Assange added that the EC had been deliberating over the issue for 15 months, almost four times longer than normal. WikiLeaks and DataCell have now submitted counter arguments to the commission's preliminary decision.
Both Visa and Mastercard refused to comment.