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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Revealed: British businessman made millions from venture behind UK arm of ‘Kremlin Propaganda’ TV channel

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Former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond suspended his talk show on RT last month after being pressured (PA/AFP/Getty)

A British director who runs the firm behind the British arm of RT, accused of broadcasting Kremlin propaganda, has made more than £2m in just three years. the independent can reveal.

Regulator Ofcom has revoked the license to broadcast in the UK to Russian state-backed news channel RT, formerly known as Russia Today, as it faces 29 investigations into its coverage of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

the independent may reveal that Christopher Wood, 57, who moved to Moscow in the early 1990s, has made millions with a company that has provided RT’s UK operations.

UK Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries told MPs earlier this month that she hoped the station’s license would be removed so that “it can never again have the platform to broadcast its propaganda in the UK.” United”. Meanwhile, Labor leader Keir Starmer last month called RT Putin a “personal propaganda tool”. Former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond suspended his talk show on RT last month after coming under pressure.

RT states that “it is an autonomous non-profit organization that is publicly financed from the budget of the Russian Federation.” In the UK, although RT’s broadcast licensee was the Russian company ANO TV Novosti, Russia Today TV UK Ltd has been the company behind its operations.

In a 2017 post, RT’s website referred to Russia Today TV UK Ltd as “the sole provider for all of RT’s UK operations”. Elsewhere in the same post, the company is referred to as “RT’s UK operation”.

Wood is the sole director and shareholder of Russia Today TV UK Ltd, records show. He has received £1,663,000 in dividends and £425,621 in director pay over three years, according to an analysis of Companies House records.

Little is publicly known about Wood, but the independent has gathered details about his life. Before becoming director of the firm in 2005 when he joined, he lived in Russia with his wife Elvira, an Estonian-born dancer. They had two children born in Moscow; a daughter in 1995 and in 2002 a son.

On Friday, Wood’s brother Nicholas, a Hertfordshire-based architect, said the independent: “My brother is here right now liquidating everything and he has had to fire 45 journalists or so… I think he is quite sad about how things have turned out, it is certainly not a problem of his will or his will. ”

He added: “My brother is a businessman, he was working in Moscow and then he had the opportunity to come here and help them establish something here, he did it as a business and ran it as a business… I don’t know. I think he has some political interest in it, he just runs it like a business.”

He defended RT’s coverage, saying “if you look at its track record, it meets Ofcom’s requirements”. When he pointed out that he had been sanctioned by the regulator in the past, he added: “Yes it has, as all the stations have done, as you know, but in general they have tried to provide a service… that complies with that.”

This map shows the extent of the Russian invasion of Ukraine (Images from the Press Association)

This map shows the extent of the Russian invasion of Ukraine (Images from the Press Association)

The EU has already moved to ban RT. Revoking RT’s license to broadcast in the UK with immediate effect on Friday, Ofcom said ANO TV Novosti was “not suitable”. Ofcom said: “Today’s decision comes amid 29 ongoing investigations by Ofcom into the due impartiality of RT’s news and current affairs coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We find the volume and potentially serious nature of the issues raised in such a short period of time to be of serious concern, particularly given RT’s compliance record, which has seen the channel fined £200,000 for previous breaches of due diligence. impartiality”.

He added: “This investigation has taken into account a number of factors, including RT’s relationship with the Russian Federation. He has acknowledged that RT is funded by the Russian state, which has recently invaded a neighboring sovereign country. We also note new laws in Russia that effectively criminalize any independent journalism that deviates from the Russian state’s own news narrative, particularly in relation to the invasion of Ukraine. We believe that, given these limitations, it appears impossible for RT to comply with the due impartiality rules of our Broadcasting Code in the circumstances.”

Wood’s company, Russia Today TV UK Ltd, made a pre-tax profit of more than £1m and paid £800,000 in interim dividends, according to its latest accounts for the year to July 31, 2020. from its director amounted to £144,443.

In 2018-19, when the company posted a pre-tax profit of £3.5m, £250,000 in interim dividends were paid, with director remuneration of £147,459. In 2017-18, when the company made a pre-tax profit of £99,806, £613,000 was paid in interim dividends and £133,719 in directors’ remuneration.

The latest accounts of the company, corresponding to the year ended July 31, 2020, highlight that “the operations and assets of the firm are not very well diversified”, and adds: “consequently, there is always the risk of a reduction activity due to economic or political factors”. The company employed an average of 81 full-time employees in the year, according to the accounts.

The accounts also showed that the company paid £125,000 to Professional Television Services (PTS) Ltd for “purchased services” in the year to July 31, 2020. It paid an additional £166,667 to PTS in the year to July 31, 2020. 2019 and £125,000 in the year ending July 31, 2018, records show. Christopher Wood’s brother, Nicholas Wood, was a director of PTS Ltd until March 1, 2022 and a secretary until March 17, 2022, Companies House records show.

Christopher Wood was previously the majority shareholder in PTS, and Elvira Wood also owns shares, according to Companies House records. However, as of Feb. 1, 2022, Elvira Wood owned 75 percent or more of the company’s shares, according to a filing released Tuesday. Meanwhile, in an update also released on Tuesday, as of February 1, 2022, Christopher Wood is said to have “the right to exercise…significant influence or control over the company.”

Nicholas Wood, who said he had nothing to do with RT, said the independent: “Hears [Christopher] he ran the company there, PTS Moscow, and while he was doing that, I was helping him incidentally in the UK because I was based here, I had my own business to run here, and that allowed me to support him. And I think that’s why they made me a secretary so I could sign documents when he was looking for visas and things like that.

“If you look at the background of PTS Moscow, you will find that it was a UK company and basically self-employed there providing services for ITV, BBC panoramaBBC news nightcamera crews to support journalists going out or based there.”

When asked when his brother moved to Moscow, he said: “I don’t remember the exact date, but it was in the early 1990s.”

Wood said that “it seems that [PTS Moscow] migrated to PTS Ltd.” When asked what prompted his brother to move to Russia in the first place, he said, “He dated a TV-am journalist.” Explaining that his brother was a cameraman, he added, “When they shut down TV-am, he was left with nothing else to do, so he freelanced. [based in Moscow].”

RT was contacted for comment. An Ofcom spokesman said: “Ofcom does not regulate Russia Today TV UK Ltd. The license for the RT service was held by ANO TV Novosti, which had editorial control of the service.”

In response to Ofcom’s revocation of RT’s license, RT Deputy Editor-in-Chief Anna Belkina said: “By ignoring RT’s completely clean record of four consecutive years and stating purely political reasons directly linked to the situation in Ukraine and yet completely unrelated to RT’s operations, structure, management or editorial production, Ofcom has falsely judged RT to be ‘unfit and proper’ and in doing so has robbed the UK public of the access to information”.

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