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UPDATE 1-Google appeals court order to unblock YouTube account of sanctioned businessman

(Adds Malofeev response)

MOSCOW, May 20 (Reuters) - Google’s Russian arm said on Thursday it had lodged an appeal against a Moscow court order obliging it to unblock the YouTube account of a Christian Orthodox news channel owned by a Russian businessman who is under U.S. and EU financial sanctions.

Tsargrad TV, which is owned by Konstantin Malofeev, says YouTube blocked its account in July 2020 without providing a reason. Google said at the time that it has a policy of suspending accounts found to violate sanctions or trade restriction rules.

In April, the Moscow Arbitration Court said Google must restore Tsargrad’s account or face a daily 100,000 rouble ($1,358.29) fine, which would double each week that Google failed to comply.

Malofeev was placed under U.S. and EU sanctions in 2014 over accusations that he funded pro-Moscow separatists fighting in Ukraine, which he denies. Russia considers such Western sanctions illegal.

The dispute with YouTube is one of a number of cases in which U.S. tech and social media giants have drawn the ire of the Russian state. President Vladimir Putin accused social media companies of “monopolism” in a speech this year to the World Economic Forum.

Russia has been punitively impeding the speed of Twitter since March and warned other tech platforms, including YouTube, over failing to delete content it deems illegal.

“We’ve now filed an appeal against last month’s Tsargrad ruling, because it sets aside the prior decisions of multiple Russian courts, and comes with a penalty that is out of all proportion to the matter at hand,” Google Russia said in a statement.

“We’re also appealing because the decision creates a great deal of uncertainty for foreign investors - like Google - in Russia. We look forward to presenting our arguments in detail at the appeal hearing.”

Malofeev’s representatives said they categorically disagreed with Google’s appeal and its interpretation of the ruling.

“We believe that the earlier ruling is absolutely legal and we will prove this in the appeal hearing, which is likely to take place at the end of June,” Malofeev’s press secretary Valeriy Rukobratskiy told Reuters.

Google Russia said the appeal had been filed on Wednesday. ($1 = 73.6220 roubles) (Reporting by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

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