MasterCard Worldwide is in the process of suspending payments to WikiLeaks, according to a spokesperson for the card brand.

PayPal Inc. made a similar move last week, cutting the WikiLeaks website off from donations. The San Jose, Calif.-based unit of eBay Inc. notified the accountholder, the Wau Holland foundation, on Dec. 3, a PayPal spokesperson says.

 “Visa Europe has taken action to suspend Visa payment acceptance on WikiLeaks’ website pending further investigation into the nature of its business and whether it contravenes Visa operating rules,” the company says.

Each company is trying to distance itself from the website, which has released thousands of classified documents, analysts say. The Department of Justice is investigating the embattled organization and its founder, Julian Assange.

“We live in a very litigious society. They are concerned that they will be funding an illegal enterprise,” says Thomas C. McCrohan, managing director for equity research at Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia.

Such actions by payments networks, while rare, have precedent.

“I remember the case when one of the networks … stopped allowing its cards to be accepted by allofmp3.com, a Russian-based website accused of breaking the music copyright laws,” Zilvinas Bareisis, a senior analyst at Celent, said in an e-mail.

The companies are justified in their actions, but it seems more like the job of a merchant acquirer than a payment network, he added.

“The banks are the sponsoring institution; they are responsible for merchants,” Bareisis says. “That’s why it’s so unusual for the network to step in. Maybe it’s because it’s an extreme case.”

Assange was arrested after turning himself into British police Dec. 7 for a Swedish arrest warrant for alleged sex crimes, according to media reports. The arrest makes payments networks even less willing to do business with Assange and his organization, analysts say.

“When you look at how he’s been under investigation for sex crimes,” notes Brian Riley, a research director for bankcards at TowerGroup, “there are particular reasons that [the payment networks] are doing this. It goes to the same issue on having unacceptable transactions through the payment network.”

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