Wikileaks believes that "the public scrutiny of otherwise unaccountable and secretive institutions forces them to consider the ethical implications of their actions. Which official will chance a secret, corrupt transaction when the public is likely to find out?" It is a lofty ideal, and very easy to subscribe to.
But can one take Wikileaks' co-founder Julian Assange at face value as someone only interested in the lofty pursuit of transparency for the sake of good governance?
Its webpage provides little information about the people involved. Equally, there is no financial disclosure. Yet it offers multiple ways to donate for its running costs.
As with everything else that is not transparent in Wikileaks' activities, Assange attributes this lack of disclosure to the need to protect it from lawsuits and "spies". Whether this is pretext or paranoia, Wikileaks benefits from the secrecy awarded by friendly jurisdictions to protect itself from inquisitive minds. It draws financial support from a German foundation that is not mandated by law to reveal its financial sources. It benefits from US tax-exemption status through two US-registered charities but will not disclose their names. It is registered in Sweden as a newspaper because of lenient press regulations, as a library in Australia and as a foundation in France, presumably for the same reasons.
Even if one is prepared to accept the argument for Wikileaks, the same cannot apply to Assange and its associates.
Here are three questions that Assange should answer for the sake of full disclosure:
What is your legal address? Asking for a residential address is not meant to help the men in black come and take him away. But according to media reports, he does not have a known permanent address. At his court hearings in London, he was asked this by the judge. As in the past, Assange equivocated, asking whether this was for correspondence purposes. He eventually gave an Australian address, though he has clearly not lived there for a long time.
Can the public see your tax returns for the past five years? Given that he is obviously employed, he presumably should be paying taxes somewhere. He is Australian — does he pay his taxes down under? He has applied for a residency permit in Sweden, though, given his runaway status on sexual harassment charges, it is hard to believe that his request will be granted. Still, is he paying taxes there? Does he pay at all? The public has the right to know, as does the taxman.