British government denies role in NatWest closing bank accounts of Moscow’s channel, “Closure of Russia Today bank accounts nothing to do with us ” – Treasury
Russia has angrily accused Britain of trampling on freedom of speech after NatWest said it was closing down the bank accounts of the Kremlin TV channel Russia Today (RT).
Russian MPs, the foreign ministry and human rights officials all condemned the move, and said the UK government was guilty of violating press freedom and of double standards. “Long live freedom of speech!”, RT’s editor-in-chief, Margarita Simonyan, tweeted sarcastically.
Simonyan said she had received a letter out of the blue from NatWest saying that it was pulling the plug on the broadcaster’s accounts from mid-December.
“We have recently undertaken a review of your banking arrangements with us and reached the conclusion that we will no longer provide these facilities,” it said. The decision was final, the letter added.
But after several hours of confusion the Treasury said it had nothing to do with NatWest’s move. Sources said the decision to deny RT banking services was made independently by NatWest, and apparently without any official consultation.
“This isn’t something that has come out of the Treasury,” one source insisted. The UK government had not introduced any fresh sanctions or “obligations” against Russia since February 2015, the source said.
In recent years it is understood that the bank’s compliance department has frequently shut down accounts of other Russian customers, often without warning.
Russian officials, however, were quick to denounce the move against RT as a murky British plot. They pointed out that NatWest – a part of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group – is mostly state-owned.
“It seems that freedom of speech is completely lost in Albion’s Russophobic fog,” tweeted Konstantin Dolgov, Russia’s foreign ministry commissioner for human rights.