UPDATE 1-Bank of America cuts off WikiLeaks payments

* List of financial firms banning payment to group growing

* BofA thought to be next target in WikiLeaks data release

* WikiLeaks urges BofA customers to cut ties with bank
(Adds company comment, background; changes dateline from
Washington)

By Joe Rauch

CHARLOTTE, N.C., Dec 18 (BestGrowthStock) – Bank of America Corp
(BAC.N: ) said on Saturday it will not process payments intended
for WikiLeaks, which has angered U.S. authorities with the mass
release of U.S. diplomatic cables.

The largest U.S. bank by assets joins a growing group of
financial services companies, including MasterCard, PayPal and
Visa Europe, that are restricting payments to the global
organization which has said its next large document release
will be bank information.

“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 in a statement obtained by Reuters.

WikiLeaks has said it will release documents early next
year that will point to “unethical practices” at a major U.S.
bank, widely thought to be Bank of America.

Several companies have ended services to WikiLeaks after
the website teamed up with major newspapers to publish
thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables that have caused
tension between Washington and some of its allies.

WikiLeaks later issued a message on Twitter urging its
supporters to leave the bank.

“We ask that all people who love freedom close out their
accounts at Bank of America,” it said on the social networking
medium.

“Does your business do business with Bank of America? Our
advice is to place your funds somewhere safer,” WikiLeaks said
in a subsequent tweet.

In a backlash against organizations that have cut off
WikiLeaks, cyber activists have been targeting companies seen
as foes of the website.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was released on bail this
week from a jail in Britain, where he is fighting extradition
to Sweden over alleged sexual offenses.

Assange, a 39-year-old Australian, said on Friday that he
was the target of an aggressive U.S. investigation and feared
extradition to the United States was “increasingly likely.”

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has said his government
is considering using the U.S. Espionage Act, under which it is
illegal to obtain national defense information for the purpose
of harming the United States, as well as other laws to
prosecute the release of sensitive government information by
WikiLeaks.
(Additional reporting by Sandra Maler in Washington; editing
by Mohammad Zargham)

UPDATE 1-Bank of America cuts off WikiLeaks payments