Bill Browder’s Case Highlights Loopholes in Relief INTERPOL Grants Victims of Red Notice Abuse

Bill Browder’s Case Highlights Loopholes in Relief INTERPOL Grants Victims of Red Notice Abuse

On May 30 of this year, acting on an INTERPOL alert, Spanish authorities detained Bill Browder, an outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin’s regime.  Prior to this arrest, Russia had reportedly made at least five attempts to put Mr. Browder on the international wanted list.  In the past, INTERPOL refused to cooperate, citing the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files (CCF), which concluded that his case was predominantly political.  After several hours and, reportedly, the personal involvement of the INTERPOL Secretary General, Spanish police released Mr. Browder.

The full circumstances of this arrest remain unclear.  According to some reports, at the time, there was an active Russian request to detain Mr. Browder published in INTERPOL’s database.  INTERPOL, however, denied its involvement, and some commentators argued that Spain could have acted on old information in its national database, which the country failed to update timely to reflect the changes in INTERPOL’s files.  In its public statement, INTERPOL denies that there has ever been a red notice against Mr. Browder recorded in its database, but as Ted Bromund rightfully notes, the statement “is economic with the truth.”  The fact that INTERPOL has never approved a red notice against Mr. Browder doesn’t mean that there has never been a diffusion against him in the organization’s database.  Unlike red notices, diffusions aren’t subject to any screening from INTERPOL prior to their publication.  Indeed, in 2017, Russia reportedly succeeded in publishing a diffusion against Mr. Browder.  That is, after several unsuccessful attempts to have INTERPOL approve a red notice, the Russian government took the easier path of publishing a diffusion, thereby bypassing any preliminary check from the organization.

Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, Moscow

Whether it was a failure to update the national database or a new diffusion that led to Mr. Browder’s arrest in Spain, both can happen to anyone who has ever been on the INTERPOL wanted list.  As long as either of these scenarios exists, any relief the CCF grants victims of red notice or diffusion abuse is limited at best.

The fact that individuals remain under the threat of arrest just because INTERPOL and its member countries have failed to ensure that national and INTERPOL databases are simultaneously updated is, quite frankly, appalling.  Objectively, this should have been the first obvious step to ensure that decisions to remove individuals from the international wanted list were enforced.  At the same time, the lack of an official public statement from INTERPOL on how it works to prevent the publication of red notices and diffusions the CCF has already declared unlawful, is yet another reason to wonder if the organization even has a plan to deal with the problem.

The public deserves to know whether INTERPOL is committed to enforcing its own decisions not to cooperate with governments in individual cases.  Does the organization monitor all incoming red notices and diffusions to make sure they are not published if the CCF has already found them to be predominantly political or otherwise unlawful?  If it is a matter of finding and implementing a reliable technology, the loophole should be easy to fix: such monitoring could be conducted via reliable computer software.  If, however, it is a matter of policy and INTERPOL allows governments to publish red notices and diffusions already found to be in violation of the organization’s rules, the problem is much more serious.

The Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation, Moscow

If INTERPOL has interpreted its rules to mean that governments can, under certain circumstances, place individuals, whose complaints the CCF has already approved, on the international wanted list, then its interpretation is wrong.  Only the CCF has the power to reverse its own decisions.  Neither the INTERPOL Constitution nor its other regulations grant any other body that power.  If INTERPOL believes it can allow a government to put an individual, already declared a victim of INTERPOL abuse, on the wanted list if the government simply brings new charges, it is hard to imagine that INTERPOL doesn’t realize how easy it is for a government to come up with new trumped-up charges.

Whether it is a technological or a policy loophole that allows governments to continue to use INTERPOL to persecute individuals the CCF has already declared victims of red notice or diffusion abuse, that loophole must be closed immediately.  If INTERPOL fails to act, there will be many more cases like Bill Browder’s.  In the meantime, Russia is already reportedly considering its next, seventh, attempt to put him on the international wanted list.

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