WikiLeaks blockade under probe
December 24, 2010
Government officials in both Norway and Iceland are questioning the grounds for what’s become a credit card blockade against WikiLeaks that has disrupted the non-profit whistle-blowing organization’s ability to raise funds. Norwegian-Danish finance firm Teller is also the target of a government inquiry.
Norway’s leading business newspaper, Dagens Næringsliv (DN), has reported in a series of articles this week how Visa Europe and MasterCard have effectively blocked their credit card holders’ ability to send donations to WikiLeaks. The blockade has been carried out through the Norwegian-Danish finance firm Teller, which handles credit card transactions for Visa Europe and MasterCard.
Teller officials claim they were ordered by Visa Europe to suspend yet another firm involved in the complicated chain of credit card facilitators, Datacell of Iceland, which received donations (which donors had charged to their credit cards) on behalf of WikiLeaks.
Demanding legal basis for the suspension
DN reported earlier this week that a leading Norwegian law professor believes the credit card blockade, suspected of being politically motivated because of WikiLeaks’ disclosures of classified government documents, is illegal and violates both national and EU finance agreements and directives.
Now, reports DN, the Icelandic Parliament has launched an investigation into the grounds for the actions taken by Teller, Visa Europe and MasterCard against WikiLeaks. ”Nobody has been able to clarify the judicial foundation as to why payments to Datacell, and therefore WikiLeaks, have been stopped,” Robert Marshall, who leads the Parliament’s control committee, told DN. “And that is, of course, a problem.”
Marshall called the credit card blockade “serious” and “highly dubious” and said the Icelandic parliamentarians were demanding a “legitimate reason” for it. So far, he told DN, Teller has only referred to “due diligence” undertaken to ensure that Datacell has operated in accordance with its agreement with Visa. Neither Teller nor Visa Europe has produced evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Datacell or WikiLeaks, even though they have effectively halted payments to WikiLeaks through Datacell for nearly three weeks. That, according to DN, has cost WikiLeaks an estimated USD 1.6 million in lost donations from its supporters and also is hurting Datacell, which has more than 3,000 other customers.
Norway also demands some answers
DN reports that Norwegian financial authorities at regulatory agency Finanstilsynet in Oslo are also raising questions and have asked Teller to produce a legitimate reason for turning away customers. Finanstilsynet planned to send a letter Thursday to Teller demanding a legal reason as to why Teller has effectively stopped payments to WikiLeaks by suspending Datacell.
Anders Kvam of Finanstilsynet told DN that “we’re looking into this,” and that the regulators want to know Teller’s basis for the actions taken against Datacell. Teller must answer by January 3, an unusually short deadline that means Teller officials will need to work on the issue during what otherwise is a Christmas holiday period in Norway.
“This is a current problem that must be solved,”" Kvam told DN. “It involves payment transactions, and we can’t let these types of questions remain unanswered.”
Teller sent out a press statement earlier this week saying it had concluded that Datacell had violated its agreement with Visa by turning over payments to a third party. Datacell’s officials objected immediately and legal action is pending.
Teller also claimed that it had found no violations on the part of Sunshine Press, WikiLeaks’ company in Icceland, but that it was now up to Visa to approve payments to Sunshine Press.