Swiss bank defends Wikileaks shutdown

Business Materials 28 February 2008 21:40 (UTC +04:00)

( AP ) - The Swiss bank that won a court order shutting down a whistle-blower Web site said Thursday that it just wanted stolen and forged documents removed.

"It wasn't our intention to shut down the Web site," bank spokesman Martin Somogyi told The Associated Press. "Our intention was to remove the documents."

The closure of Wikileaks.org last week occurred because those operating Wikileaks refused to delete documents relating to some wealthy clients of the private bank, called Julius Baer, Somogyi said.

Ordered by a federal District Court judge in San Francisco, the shutdown prompted a worldwide backlash. Free speech advocates called it unconstitutional.

Numerous sites have been created outside the United States to "mirror" the documents, which Wikileaks claimed showed tax evasion and money laundering schemes at Julius Baer's Cayman Islands branch. The bank denies that charge.

The bank says the documents were sent to Wikileaks by a disgruntled former employee and it is pressing charges against the employee in Switzerland.

Somogyi said the failure of Wikileaks to respond to Julius Baer's complaints caused the site to be shut down. If Wikileaks had defended itself in court, the judge might have ordered only the removal of the offending documents, he said.

Wikileaks spokesman Jay Lim said the site has "responded with grace" to all inquiries by Julius Baer. Lim challenged the bank's assertion that it didn't intend the lawsuit to close down the site.

"At any time, it may ask the court that its earlier request for an order to shut down the site be rescinded," Lim said in an e-mailed statement to the AP. "It has not done so."

Somogyi said the bank believed some of the posted material was forged, citing a letter purportedly sent by Julius Baer to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"It's pretty obvious that this was a clumsy attempt at cyberslander," he said. "Wikileaks should publish whatever it judges to be accurate - but not stolen or forged documents that concern us."

The court will hear arguments Friday from civil liberties groups and several media organizations, including The Associated Press, challenging the shutdown.