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MasterCard, Visa Europe Halting Payments to WikiLeaks

MasterCard Inc., the world’s second-biggest payments network, and Visa Europe Ltd. are suspending use of their brands by WikiLeaks, which released thousands of secret U.S. military and State Department documents.

MasterCard and London-based Visa Europe, operator of the largest card network in the European Union, are following EBay Inc. unit PayPal, which recently cut access to WikiLeaks for violating the online payment processor’s acceptable use policy.

“MasterCard is currently in the process of working to suspend the acceptance of MasterCard cards on WikiLeaks,” said James Issokson, a spokesman for the Purchase, New York-based company, in an e-mailed statement today.

The actions are the latest in a series by companies that may crimp access to funds for WikiLeaks. PostFinance, the banking arm of SwissPost, closed a bank account held by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, saying he doesn’t qualify to be a client. Inc. dropped WikiLeaks from its website- hosting service for breaching terms of service.

Simon Kleine, a spokesman for Visa Europe, said in an e-mail that the firm suspended Visa payment acceptance on WikiLeak’s website “pending further investigation into the nature of its business and whether it contravenes Visa operating rules.”

Visa Europe and San Francisco-based Visa Inc. are separate companies. Cnet reported MasterCard’s decision earlier today on its website.

U.K. Arrest

Assange, 39, was arrested in the U.K. today after Swedish police issued an international arrest warrant on rape allegations. Assange, who was denied bail, challenged the request to turn him over to Swedish authorities.

Mark Stephens, Assange’s U.K. lawyer with the firm Finers Stephens Innocent LLP in London, told reporters outside court that the bail ruling was “unfortunate.” He said that many people believe the allegations in Sweden are politically motivated. Stephens represents media organizations, including Bloomberg News.

MasterCard didn’t receive a request from the U.S. government or any third party before acting, according to spokesman Chris Monteiro. “This decision was MasterCard’s alone,” he said.

WikiLeaks drew condemnation for posting thousands of classified documents on its website, including U.S. embassy communications and a military video of a July 2007 helicopter attack in Iraq that killed a Reuters television cameraman and his driver.

Created in 2006, WikiLeaks receives confidential material and posts it on the Internet “so readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth,” the nonprofit organization says on its website. WikiLeaks relies on donations to fund operations and accepts payments via credit card, bank transfer and postal mail, according to the website.

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