SAN FRANCISCO – 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.
[In fact, all the judge's order did was to de-list the wikileaks.org domain name. The Wikileaks site is still fully accessible via its Internet Protocol address — http://188.8.131.52 — as well as various duplicate domain names which map to the same IP address, such as http://www.wikileaks.be.]
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, which has operations in 18 countries, says the documents were sent to Wikileaks by a disgruntled former employee and it is pressing charges against the employee in Switzerland.
Julius Baer announced this month that it is looking into making an initial public offering for its U.S. subsidiary, Julius Baer Americas Inc.
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 always requests that affected parties come forward to offer insight on documents it publishes.
Julius Baer "is trying to muddy the waters by alluding to inaccuracies without actually naming them, as we have repeatedly requested," Lim said in an e-mailed statement to the AP.
He added that the group operating the site has "responded with grace" to all inquiries by Julius Baer and challenged the bank's assertion that the lawsuit was not aimed at closing 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"At any time, it may ask the court that its earlier request for an order to shut down the site be rescinded," Lim said in an e-mailed statement to the AP.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.
The site claims to have been launched by Chinese dissidents and other activists to encourage the posting of documents that show unethical behavior of governments and corporations.
It says it has posted 1.2 million documents, including a 2003 operation manual for the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Shares in Julius Baer closed down 3.5 percent at $72.86 on the Zurich exchange Thursday.