27th November 2012, 1300 GMT
European Commission documents released today by WikiLeaks show that hard-right U.S. politicians were directly behind the extrajudicial banking blockade against WikiLeaks. In the heavily redacted documents, MasterCard Europe admits that Senator Joseph Lieberman and Congressman Peter T. King both "had conversations" with MasterCard in the United States. Lieberman, the then-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, boasted of instigating Amazon's cutting of service to WikiLeaks - an action condemned by the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers on 7 December 2011.
Senator Lieberman tried to introduce the SHIELD Act into the Senate and advocated for prosecuting the New York Times for espionage in connection with WikiLeaks' releases. Rep. Peter King, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, tried to formally designate WikiLeaks as a foreign terrorist organization, have its staff listed as 'enemy combatants', and have WikiLeaks put on a U.S. Treasury blacklist. On 13 January 2011 the U.S. Treasury announced it would not do so because there was no evidence that WikiLeaks should be on such a list. While Lieberman and King were unsuccessful in these methods of legally cutting WikiLeaks from its popular donor base, they were successful in doing so extra-legally via VISA and MasterCard, which together hold a monopoly of 97 per cent of the market of EU card payments.
VISA Europe is registered in London and is owned by a consortium of European banks. MasterCard Europe is registered in Belgium and has similar ownership, but the Commission papers show that European control of VISA Europe and MasterCard Europe is a fiction. The papers reveal that the instructions to blockade WikiLeaks' operations in Europe came directly from VISA and MasterCard in the United States. Ownership would normally imply control, but VISA and MasterCard Europe are essentially controlled by confidential contracts with their U.S. counterparts, a hidden organizational structure that the Commission calls an "association of undertakings".
On Tuesday, 19 November 2012, the European Parliament took an important step towards safeguarding the economic sovereignty of all Europeans. In Article 32 of its resolution, the European Parliament expressed the will that the Commission should prevent the arbitrary refusal of payments by credit card companies, which economically strangles businesses and organizations, notably ours. The resolution is an important step to putting an end to the Lieberman/King blockade, which has wiped out 95 per cent of WikiLeaks' revenues. The Lieberman/King blockade has been directly condemned by, among others, the UN Special Rapporteur of Freedom of Speech and the New York Times Editorial Board. The blockade is a direct infringement of the Article 19 right to receive and impart information, and threatens all donor-funded organizations and the freedom of the press.
It comes as a surprise, then, that the European Commission is taking the contrary view in its preliminary decision, of not opening a formal investigation into VISA, MasterCard and AmEx's violations against DataCell, the company that collected donations to the WikiLeaks project until the imposition of the blockade in 2010. The Commission's 16-page preliminary decision has been announced after 15 months of deliberations. The 'normal' waiting time is four months. Yesterday, DataCell and WikiLeaks submitted detailed counter-arguments to the Commission's preliminary decision.
Through the leaked documents we learn that VISA and MasterCard have used a false statement by the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, to mislead the European Commission. The Prime Minister's statement, which she later claimed was made in her "private capacity", was that the WikiLeaks publication of diplomatic cables was "illegal". This was declared to be false by a subsequent investigation by the Australian Federal Police, which declared that WikiLeaks had not broken any Australian law. Earlier this year, the Australian Senate passed a resolution demanding the retraction of the Prime Minister's false statement.
The leaked documents reveal MasterCard's political stance to our exposure of the crimes and horrors of military campaigns: "It is evident that any affiliation with an organisation causing damage to the national interests of several nations involved in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq... will be extremely damaging for the public perception of MasterCard".
Julian Assange said:
"There is no sovereignty without economic sovereignty. It is concerning that hard-right elements in the United States have been able to pressure VISA and MasterCard, who together hold monopoly over the European market, into introducing a blockade that the U.S. Treasury has rightly rejected. These unaccountable elements are directly interfering in the political and economic freedoms of EU consumers and are setting a precedent for political censorship of the world's media."
WikiLeaks will continue to fight the blockade, despite its limited resources, because it is fighting for its survival. Already there have been victories. In June 2012 WikiLeaks won its first court victory in Iceland against the Lieberman-King blockade. Last month WikiLeaks opened a new battle front by filing, together with its partner DataCell, a case against Teller A/S (VISA Denmark).
The movement in Parliament and in the rest of Europe is to support WikiLeaks' publishing rights. The German foundation Wau Holland Stiftung (WHS), which collected donations for WikiLeaks via PayPal had their donations account arbitrarily shut down. The tax-exempt status of the Foundation was challenged as well, as a result of political interference which was exposed this month in Der Spiegel ("Taxing Transparency"). Yesterday, WHS announced that, after almost two years of negotiations with German tax authorities, its tax exemption (charitable status) has been reinstated. Citizens of all EU Member States will now be able to donate to WikiLeaks' operations through WHS and deduct the donation from their income tax.
UN Special Rapporteur on Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression: click here=829&lID=1