The 84% state-owned Royal Bank of Scotland faces damaging revelations about its ethical record after it emerged that the bank was part of a deal to issue more than $800m (£489m) in Belarusian government bonds earlier this year, a month after the country's leader, Alexander Lukashenko, ordered the brutal repression of pro-democracy campaigners. In Belarus, hundreds of opposition activists were arrested and many of those who stood against Mr Lukashenko in last December's disputed elections have since been thrown in jail after a series of show trials that have been condemned by international observers. Many pro-democracy groups have urged Western businesses to shun the regime until their demands for reform are met.
RBS is the only British bank to have recently done financial deals directly with the Belarusian government. The scandal of raising bonds for Belarus, a country with by far the worst human rights record in Europe, cannot be described as a one-off lapse of judgement on the bank's part. The bank's apologists, no doubt, will claim that it has done nothing illegal because the government of Belarus is not under international sanctions, apart from a feeble EU travel ban placed on top officials.
Natalia Koliada, from Free Belarus Now, said: "When British businesses invest in Belarus, or RBS sells their government's bonds, it helps support an authoritarian regime."
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