Belfast Telegraph

Russian broadcaster demands Government explanation for NatWest account closures

The row between NatWest and Russian state broadcaster RT has escalated after the country's embassy declared the decision to close the TV network's bank accounts "openly political" and demanded the British Government explain the lender's actions.

A statement released by Russia's UK embassy drew links to the British Government, which holds a 73% stake in NatWest parent Royal Bank of Scotland.

"We are deeply concerned over the announcement of the British Government-owned NatWest bank that it intends to close the accounts of RT television channel. This openly political decision follows many similar acts of harassment and intimidation against Russian news outlets in UK," the statement said.

The embassy claims RT was previously subjected to "a plethora of unsubstantiated Ofcom investigations".

"The Russian side is requesting explanations from the British Government for this unfriendly step," the embassy said.

However, Prime Minister Theresa May's official spokeswoman said on Monday that the decision was taken by the bank "independently".

"It is a matter for the bank and it is for them to decide who they offer services to, based on their own risk appetite," said the spokeswoman.

An article posted on RT's website on Monday included a letter reportedly sent by NatWest to the broadcaster's London office.

It explained that the Royal Bank of Scotland Group (RBS) would no longer offer its service to RT, and that all banking services and accounts would be closed by December 12.

Despite news reports suggesting that the broadcaster's bank accounts had been frozen, a statement issued by RBS explained that the accounts were still active.

RBS said: "These decisions are not taken lightly. We are reviewing the situation and are contacting the customer to discuss this further. The bank accounts remain open and are still operative."

It is not the first time that RT has run into trouble in Britain.

The media group has breached the UK's broadcasting code at least 10 times over the past decade. The station was put on notice by communications watchdog Ofcom, which warned that further impartiality breaches could result in a fine.

Russia's embassy says that targeting RT "amounts to squeezing alternative voices out of UK media space" and highlights the government's "inability to defend its case on issues where we happen to differ with appropriate means".

"The creation of unbearable conditions for Russian media, making their normal functioning impossible is a violation of UK obligations under OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe) norms," the embassy's statement said.

It added: "Silencing these news outlets is a blow to the principles of freedom of expression, allegedly cherished in Britain."