By Michael Holden
LONDON (Reuters) - WikiLeaks will have to stop publishing secret cables and devote itself to fund-raising if it is unable to end a financial "blockade" by U.S. firms such as Visa and MasterCard by the end of the year, founder Julian Assange said on Monday.
After releasing tens of thousands of confidential U.S. government cables, WikiLeaks needs $3.5 million over the next year to continue operating, Assange said.
Visa and MasterCard stopped processing donations for WikiLeaks in December 2010 after the United States criticized the organization's release of thousands of sensitive U.S. diplomatic cables from its embassies all over the world.
In the 24 hours before credit card donations were blocked, the organization said it had received $135,000. Now, it is receiving on average about 7,000 euros ($9,700)a month.
Assange said there were no lawful grounds for the blockade by Bank of America Corp, Visa Inc, MasterCard Inc, eBay Inc unit PayPal and Western Union Co, which he said had cost Wikileaks 95 percent of its revenue.
"If WikiLeaks does not find a way to remove this blockade, given our current levels of expenditure, we will simply not be able to continue by the turn of the year," Assange told a news conference.
In July, WikiLeaks filed a complaint to the Directorate-General for Competition of the European Commission, saying Visa and MasterCard had breached antitrust provisions set out by the EU Treaty.
Assange, who is fighting extradition from Britain to Sweden, where he faces allegations of sexual misconduct, said he hoped the European Commission would make a decision to hold a full investigation by mid-November.
In interviews last year, Assange said WikiLeaks had extensive internal documents from a bank, believed to be Bank of America, an announcement that knocked 3 percent off the value of the bank's shares.
However, on Monday he said this data was now out of WikiLeaks' hands and in the possession of an unnamed suspended WikiLeaks employee.
"At this stage, we do not believe, unfortunately, that we will regain that material, which is a great loss," he said.
Daniel Domscheit-Berg, who last year was fired by Assange as WikiLeaks' co-spokesman, told Reuters in August that he had destroyed about 3,000 submissions that WikiLeaks had received relating to Bank of America.
(Editing by Kevin Liffey)