The very public spat between RT and the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) group's NatWest arm has taken a new twist after the bank denied that it has frozen the accounts of the Russian broadcaster.
RBS clarified that the NatWest letter (dated 12 October 2016) stating that it was cancelling all its accounts and bank line with effect from 12 December 2016, was in fact not addressed to RT, but to one of its suppliers.
RT said that the letter, which was published on its website had urged the broadcaster to "make alternative banking arrangements outside of The Royal Bank of Scotland Group" and that its decision was final and the bank was "not prepared to enter into any discussion in retaliation to it".
RT however had redacted the name and address of the entity or individual the letter was addressed to. RBS told IBTimes UK that the letter was "to a supplier [whether individual or company] of services to RT".
In a late statement to IBTimes UK, an RBS spokesperson said that the letter published by RT "was to our customer who is a supplier of services to Russia Today". The spokesperson clarified that the accounts were not frozen as claimed, but that a 60-day notice was issued to close the account.
The statement stressed that the UK government was not involved in its decision to review the accounts. "The bank reserves the right to exit customers where we are not able to meet our own risk appetite or regulatory requirements."
The Guardian reported that the Treasury has "after several hours of confusion" come out to say that it had nothing to do with NatWest's move. It said sources claim that the decision by the bank was "made independently by NatWest, and apparently without any official consultation".
The source said: "This isn't something that has come out of the Treasury." The UK government has not introduced any fresh sanctions or "obligations" against Russia since February 2015, the source claimed.
The Scotsman said Prime Minister Theresa May's office had denied any involvement, stating: "It's a matter for the bank and it's for them to decide who they offer services to based on their own risk appetite."
Russia, however, accused the UK government of violating press freedom and of double standards. Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry said: "It seems that, while leaving the EU, London left behind all its freedom of speech obligations in Europe."
Margarita Simonyan, the Editor-in-Chief of RT had tweeted: "They've closed our accounts in Britain. All our accounts. 'The decision is not subject to review'. Praise be to freedom of speech!"
In an interview, The Scotsman quoted her as saying: "Hypothetically, this may have something to do with new British and American sanctions against Russia, which may be announced soon, it may not. Our legal department is dealing with the issue now."
RT claims RBS backtracked from earlier statement
Separately, RT claims that RBS seems to have backtracked from its earlier statement to close RT's accounts, referring to an RBS statement that it was "reviewing the situation and are contacting the customer to discuss this further". The bank also said that the accounts "remain open and are still operative".
RT claims that when it approached the bank's spokesperson, Sarah Hinton-Smith, over the contradictory statements issued by the banking group, she said in an email: "There's not much more of a steer I can give other than what is in the statement."
The broadcaster pointed out that although the Theresa May's office has denied any involvement in the bank's decision, the UK government is "a significant shareholder" of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group.
Stephen Green, the National Director of Christian Voice said in a press statement: "It would be good for NatWest to withdraw their Turkish-style attack on freedom of expression..."
Further, the broadcaster highlighted that an online petition was launched at Care2 website seeking the reinstatement of RT's bank accounts with NatWest. The petition has received 314 supporters so far.