Britain’s banks accused of using ‘sinister blacklists’ to close ‘politically exposed’ VIPs’ accounts
- Countess Alexandra Tolstoy was flagged on the World-Check database as a PEP
Britain’s banks were last night accused of using a ‘sinister blacklist’ to strip prominent people of their bank accounts.
World-Check, a database of more than four million individuals and organisations, is used by banks to identify terrorists, money launderers and sanctioned oligarchs.
But it also lists so-called ‘politically exposed’ people (PEPs) –including MPs and their families – who are subject to enhanced financial checks. Critics claim the database, run by Refinitive, owned by London Stock Exchange Group, has ballooned in size and banks are increasingly shutting down accounts without explanation.
The Mail on Sunday can reveal that Anglo-Russian businesswoman Countess Alexandra Tolstoy – who had her NatWest accounts closed without explanation – was flagged on the World-Check database as a PEP without her knowledge. She only made the discovery when she used Data Protection laws to demand any information that World-Check held on her.
The Mail on Sunday can reveal that Anglo-Russian businesswoman Countess Alexandra Tolstoy – who had her NatWest accounts closed without explanation – was flagged on the World-Check database as a PEP without her knowledge
Documents disclosed to her revealed that her listing was partly based on an 2011 interview she gave to the Daily Mail detailing her romance with Russian oligarch Sergei Pugachev. An estimated 10,000 organisations, including 49 of the world’s top 50 banks, used the World-Check database. Subscribers each pay around £6,900 a year. A World-Check sales brochure seen by this newspaper states: ‘Subjects are not aware when we carry out an investigation.’
Richard Tice, the leader of Reform UK, said: ‘Without our knowledge, banks appear to use World-Check, who then try to prevent us from knowing what personal information they give to banks. This appears to be operating as a sinister blacklist.’ Metro Bank closed down several accounts used by Reform UK, formerly the Brexit Party, in 2021 but it is not known whether Mr Tice or his party are on World-Check.
Tom Keatinge, a former investment banker and expert at the Royal United Services Institute think-tank, said such ‘screening’ services are vulnerable to flagging up people on the basis of inaccurate stories. ‘There’s clearly a vulnerability here that bad actors could try to exploit,’ he said.
Labour peer Baroness Hayter last night revealed that around 12 members of the House of Lords have been told that either their American Express payment cards are being withdrawn – or they have to answer questions about their income. A London Stock Exchange spokesman said it uses ‘human fact-checking to verify the information on World-Check.’
Richard Tice, the leader of Reform UK, said: ‘Without our knowledge, banks appear to use World-Check, who then try to prevent us from knowing what personal information they give to banks’
NatWest declined to comment on Ms Tolstoy’s case but said: ‘Where relevant we use a wide range of sources that provide information, which we can use to support decisions and actions taken to help protect the bank and our customers.’
Banks generally give 30 days notice that they are closing an account.
In a separate development, Mr Tice this weekend claimed that City lender Swiss Re last year refused a proposed £15 million loan for his business portfolio of industrial properties after the MoS revealed how he and Nigel Farage, the former Brexit Party leader, were launching a political movement to campaign against Net Zero – the policy to decarbonise the economy.
Mr Tice said that he learnt that the loan would breach the lender’s so-called ‘environmental and social governance rules’. Swiss Re said: ‘As matter of policy, we do not comment on specific investments.’
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