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Bank of America stops processing WikiLeaks payments

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Bank of America Corp. has joined several other financial institutions in refusing to handle payments for WikiLeaks.

With its announcement, the Charlotte-based bank joins a fray that has ratcheted financial pressure on the website that released thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables, but has also prompted cyber attacks on businesses that cut ties with the activist site. The move comes as WikiLeaks says it’s preparing a release of information on banks, which could include documents it says it has on Bank of America.

The Charlotte-based bank released a statement Saturday saying it will no longer process any transactions that it believes are intended for the site.

“This decision is based upon our reasonable belief that WikiLeaks may be engaged in activities that are, among other things, inconsistent with our internal policies for processing payments,” the bank said.

Reached by phone, Bank of America spokesman Scott Silvestri declined further comment to The Associated Press on Saturday.

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Other Internet companies and financial institutions_ including MasterCard Inc., Visa Inc., PayPal Inc. and Amazon.com — have also cut ties with WikiLeaks, hurting the site’s ability to accept donations and support publishing efforts. The websites of some companies perceived as trying to stifle WikiLeaks have come under cyber attack in recent weeks by hackers who support its mission.

WikiLeaks has said it does not sanction the hackers’ work, which has caused some sites to temporarily go out of service.

WikiLeaks responded to Bank of America’s announcement with a Twitter message urging supporters to stop doing business with the bank.

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“We ask that all people who love freedom close out their accounts at Bank of America,” WikiLeaks said in its posting Saturday. It also called on businesses to switch funds from the bank.

In an interview with CNBC on Friday, Assange said his organization has plans to soon release information about banks, and he told Forbes magazine last month that the data would show “unethical practices.”

Assange told Computerworld magazine in 2009 that his organization had a trove of files on Bank of America. “At the moment, for example, we are sitting on 5GB from Bank of America, one of the executive’s hard drives. Now how do we present that? It’s a difficult problem,” he was quoted as telling the magazine.

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U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has said repeatedly a criminal investigation of the WikiLeaks’ continuing release of some 250,000 secret U.S. State Department cables is under way and that anyone found to have broken the law will be held accountable. The Justice Department has provided no other public comment on who is under investigation or its legal strategy.

Assange said Friday he fears the U.S. is preparing to indict him.

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