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Russia bites back with widening crackdown on McDonald’s

Russia has broadened its crackdown on McDonald's to more than 200 separate investigations, in a campaign that makes the US fast food group one of the biggest casualties of Moscow's festering stand-off with the west over Ukraine.

The latest salvo subjects almost half of McDonald's outlets in Russia to probes over hygiene or finance.

Read MoreMoscow courts back closure of three McDonald's branches

In August, Russia's consumer protection agency ordered four of the company's largest restaurants to suspend operations over a host of alleged hygiene violations and shortly afterwards added another five to the list.

Andrey Rudakov | Bloomberg | Getty Images

At the time, the decision was seen as a political message aimed at mollifying anti-western sentiment and demonstrating that Moscow was responding to sanctions imposed by the US and the EU, which have crippled Russian banks and corporates in their ability to access global capital markets.

But since then, regulatory moves against the chain's outlets have mushroomed. "Right now, more than 200 probes have been initiated," McDonald's Russia said in a statement released on its website at the weekend. It said a court had extended the consumer watchdog's temporary closure of the initial nine restaurants and added that it would appeal against the decision.

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McDonald's has 450 restaurants in Russia, more than 100 of which are in Moscow and the surrounding region. More than 60 are in St Petersburg and the surrounding region, the country's second big metropolitan area.

The company did not give details on which of these were affected apart from the initial nine, which included four in Moscow, two in the affluent Urals city of Yekaterinburg, two in the southern Russian city of Volgograd and one in Sochi, the Black Sea resort that hosted this year's Winter Olympics.

But according to information gathered by contributors to Yopolis, an online platform about life in Russian cities, five more McDonald's restaurants have been closed in St Petersburg, two in the enclave of Kaliningrad, another one in Volgograd, and another three in the Urals region. And reports on Russian social media have identified separate probes in at least three dozen other locations.

Read MoreRussian food watchdog suspends four McDonald's locations

Among these is an investigation into the finances of Ronald McDonald House Charities in the country, which prosecutors launched on the request of a lawmaker – the first such examination since the charity started working in Russia almost 20 years ago. More hygiene-related inspections and complaints about the labelling of toys included in Happy Meals also feature.

McDonald's has faced probes over hygiene standards and the health effects of its food in other countries, but foreign executives said they felt the company was being targeted for political reasons in Russia.

"It is the typical approach you see when they are determined to bring a business to its knees," said a food industry executive in Russia. "The clearest sign for that is that you have different probes at the same time – not just hygiene but also financial."