A Russian media outlet has claimed bailiffs in the country have seized 1 billion roubles ($12 million) from Google in fines.

The claim, Reuters reported, was made by a Russian Orthodox TV channel called Tsargrad TV, owned by a sanctioned businessman Konstantin Malofeev.

Tsargrad TV calls itself a patriotic Russian channel, so its claims will be treated with a degree of scepticism by neutral observers.

YouTube fine

The fine centres over Google’s alleged refusal to restore Tsargrad TV’s access to its YouTube account.

Google did not respond to emailed requests for comment, Reuters reported.

Russia’s Federal Bailiffs Service also did not immediately reply.

Reuters reported that Google had lost a court appeal against a 2021 ruling that the company pay a daily 100,000 rouble fine for blocking Tsargrad TV’s YouTube account.

The Moscow Arbitration Court last year reportedly said the daily fine would double each week that Google failed to comply.

Tsargrad reportedly said the fine would stop compounding when it hit 1 billion roubles, a level it reached in mid March.

From September, that limit will apparently be removed.

Tsargrad reportedly said it had received the 1 billion roubles collected by the bailiffs and warned it would seek money from Google abroad, should the company continue to violate Russian law.

“Tsargrad will send the 1 billion seized today to support Russia’s special military operation to de-Nazify and demilitarise Ukraine,” Tsargrad reportedly said.

YouTube bans

It is known that Google’s YouTube service has clamped down on a number of Russia’s propaganda outlets.

In September 2021, Google’s YouTube division deleted the German-language channels of state-backed broadcaster RT (formerly Russia Today). RT is a Russian state-controlled television network funded by the federal tax budget of the Russian government.

YouTube said the RT German channel repeatedly broke its policies and rules surrounding Coronavirus misinformation.

Then when Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February, the world responded with a punishing swath of sanctions against Russia.

This included Google and Facebook blocking ad revenues for Russian state-owned media outlets.

YouTube also blocked channels connected to Russian state-backed media outlets RT and Sputnik.

Russian claims

Meanwhile, Tsargrad TV’s claims that it has recovered (via bailiffs) 1 billion roubles ($12 million) from Google, cannot be independently verified, as it is unclear if Google has assets to seize in Russia.

Checking Google’s locations webpage, it does show that Google has an office in Moscow, and could presumably have funds in local bank accounts to pay staff and bills.

However a Reuters report last month stated that Google and Facebook owner Meta were among the firms facing punitive measures for failing to open local offices.

Russia demanded that 13 foreign and mostly US technology companies be officially represented on Russian soil by the end of 2021 or face possible restrictions or outright bans.

In February Russia’s communications regulator Roskomnadzor said it would start imposing restrictions by the end of February for failure to open local offices.

Reuters reported that it was thought that only Apple and Spotify had compiled with Russia’s demand to open local offices.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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