Category: Governments-offenders

For Some INTERPOL Member Countries, Suspension and Expulsion Might Soon Become Real After All

For Some INTERPOL Member Countries, Suspension and Expulsion Might Soon Become Real After All

When it comes to INTERPOL abuse, the most noticeable item on the agenda of the 90th INTERPOL General Assembly (October 18-21, 2022) was the proposal to amend the INTERPOL Constitution to provide for the suspension and expulsion of member countries from the organization.  Currently, neither the Constitution nor any other INTERPOL rule allows for this.  The strictest sanction an INTERPOL member country may face is a long-term suspension of “processing” rights, specifically, the right to record, consult and download data in (from) INTERPOL’s databases.  Such suspension, however, would not affect a country’s other powers as a member of the organization.

INTERPOL Headquarters, Lyon, France

Calls to expel states-abusers are nothing new.  They have been growing for years, even after INTERPOL carried out several reforms to its redress mechanism in 2016-17.  To the public, the organization has been presenting the reforms as a significant step towards the protection of victims of the abuse of its resources.  In practice, however, the abuse does not seem to be receding at all, if not the other way around.  That is because the reforms have closed very few, of many, loopholes that contribute to the abuse, and since then, INTERPOL has demonstrated no readiness for any further steps towards curbing it.

In Resolution GA-2022-90-RES-02, the 90th General Assembly tasks the Working Group to Review Legal Provisions Relating to INTERPOL’s Governance Bodies with “mak[ing] comprehensive review of and propos[ing] modifications to INTERPOL’s legal texts in order to put in place criteria for the expulsion or suspension of a Member and the corresponding procedure that are in conformity with the current practice of international organizations and which would ensure transparency and consistency of the process.”  Clearly, when it comes to suspension or expulsion of its members, INTERPOL does not want to stand out among other international organizations.

It is unlikely, however, that INTERPOL will be able to borrow an already existing mechanism without significantly tailoring it to its unique mission.  Expulsion or suspension of just one member country may negatively affect regional and global security.  In addition to the information about individuals wanted for criminal prosecutions, INTERPOL provides access to data that helps to identify missing persons, rescue crime victims as well as other information crucial for legitimate criminal investigations.  That is why, most likely, the Working Group will propose a very high threshold for both suspension and expulsion of member states.  However, whatever the Working Group’s proposal may be, the General Assembly has made it very clear — there must be a path to suspend and expel a member state.  Accordingly, the Working Group is unlikely to advise against such a path, and it is now faced with a very challenging task.

A mechanism for suspension or expulsion of member countries is bound to force INTERPOL to address yet another important issue, its lack of transparency.  The General Assembly’s Resolution calls for “transparency” in the suspension and expulsion process.  However, there can be no transparency without INTERPOL publishing the information about the full extent of the abuse of its resources (including the names of countries-abusers and the nature and number of their violations), which the organization has never done before.  INTERPOL is the only source of such information, and, to this day, it has published virtually nothing in this regard.  It would be impossible for INTERPOL to achieve the desired transparency without finally, after years of unpunished abuse, becoming fully transparent about those who use its resources to persecute rather than prosecute.

Notices and Diffusions Task Force: The Most Secretive Part of INTERPOL’s Redress Mechanism

Notices and Diffusions Task Force: The Most Secretive Part of INTERPOL’s Redress Mechanism

In August 2017, just over two weeks apart, two European Union citizens, writer Dogan Akhanli and journalist Hamza Yalçin, both critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s regime, were detained in Spain.  Spanish authorities acted on requests that Turkey was able to disseminate via INTERPOL following what Erdogan branded a failed coup against him.  After these incidents, a meeting between European Union and INTERPOL officials took place during which the latter reportedly assured their counterparts that the INTERPOL Notices and Diffusions Task Force (NDTF) was reviewing 40,000 Red Notices to ensure that they were not politically motivated.  At the time, I wrote about my doubts regarding the NDTF activities.  Among the things I questioned was how INTERPOL was planning on conducting such a massive review in an effective and objective manner.  A comprehensive examination of 40,000 government requests would be an enormous undertaking, even if INTERPOL significantly increased its staff and funding.  Such a review would require INTERPOL to go far beyond what is already recorded in its databases, which is the very limited information that governments must produce to have their requests disseminated via the organization’s channels.  In most cases, such information does not allow INTERPOL to ensure that a government request complies with its rules.  However, it was not only the high volume of information that the NDTF would have to go through that made me question its activities, but the source of such information as well.  Because INTERPOL is prohibited from sharing with an individual any information about her or him without the government’s consent, or even the existence of such information in the organization’s databases, the NDTF would often have to look to the government alone for any information about a particular case.  It is hard to imagine a country seeking to abuse INTERPOL and at the same time willing to produce objective information to help the organization to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the country’s use of its channels.

Four and a half years later, my doubts concerning the NDTF have anything but disappeared.  I continue to consider it part of INTERPOL’s public relations strategy in the face of the growing discontent over the organization’s involvement in human rights violations as opposed to a meaningful step towards the protection of victims of abuse of INTERPOL’s channels.  There is virtually no information about the NDTF in the public domain.  The only thing that INTERPOL has allowed the public to learn is that the NDTF consists of several dozen staff tasked with assessing government requests at its own initiative.  There is no publicly available information on the requirements that the NDTF staff must meet or the methodologies or procedures that it must follow, if any.  Moreover, INTERPOL has not disclosed the results of the NDTF work, which begs the question: is the NDTF effective at all?  How many government requests has the NDTF reviewed since it was established, how many of them has it found to be in violation of INTERPOL’s rules, what is the nature of such violations, who are the countries-abusers?  All these questions remain unanswered.  Moreover, I am not aware of any case in which the NDTF has informed the individual concerned about the results of its review.

Why not bring NDTF, which INTERPOL promotes as an important addition to its redress mechanism, out of the shadows?  Why not adopt and publish requirements and procedures that the NDTF must follow as well as the information about the results of its work?  Unlike the NDTF, the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files (CCF), another part of the INTERPOL redress mechanism, has a statute, rules of procedure, and it publishes excerpts from its decisions in individual cases, thereby providing practitioners with some insight into its application of INTERPOL’s rules.  Although CCF is still far from achieving its much-needed transparency, the NDTF does not have even one percent of the information published about it that is publicly available about CCF.  Under such circumstances, the NDTF cannot be seen as even remotely meaningful in the fight against INTERPOL abuse.

The INTERPOL General Assembly Has Just Set Its Priorities, and Human Rights is Not One of Them

The INTERPOL General Assembly Has Just Set Its Priorities, and Human Rights is Not One of Them

I don’t recall another year in which INTERPOL received as much criticism from the media and advocacy organizations for its handling of government abuse of its channels – and did so much more to validate that criticism.

INTERPOL Headquarters, Lyon, France

This year, the INTERPOL 89th General Assembly met in Turkey.  When the host was announced, many of us expressed our frustration.  Turkey is well known for abusing INTERPOL.  The most glaring example was reportedly its attempt to put numerous people accused of participating in the failed coup against president Erdogan on the INTERPOL wanted list.  As member countries’ delegates were preparing for their trip to Istanbul this year, the Turkish government complained about INTERPOL refusing to cooperate in some of those cases against the Gülen movement.  INTERPOL’s rules do not grant countries-hosts of its meetings any privileges when it comes to filling high posts within the organization or voting to amend its rules.  However, for a country accused of abusing INTERPOL, the expenses are still worth it – if INTERPOL accepts the invitation, the host country looks accepted as well despite its misconduct.

We then learned that INTERPOL had lifted the “corrective measures” that it imposed on Syria nine years earlier.  That announcement from INTERPOL made even bigger news, with numerous voices expressing concern for Syrian refugees whose risk of being detained and extradited had become even more real.

The New Mosque (Yeni Cami) in Istanbul, Turkey

Yet another cause for concern was the UAE and China, both known for abusing INTERPOL, and who both fought to have their nationals elected to the Executive Committee.  The INTERPOL president heads the Executive Committee which, among other things, supervises the execution of the General Assembly’s decisions and the General Secretariat’s work.  The 89th General Assembly approved the changes to INTERPOL’s rules that are supposed to make the elections of president and other members of the Executive Committee more transparent and the Code of Conduct for Executive Committee members, all of this only to elect the UAE representative INTERPOL’s new president the next day.  This happened despite the serious allegations and harrowing recollections published against the country’s regime.  China now has its national on the Executive Committee as well.  To complete the sad irony, this Executive Committee will vote to adopt the Code of Conduct for its members presented to it by the General Assembly.

What about the redress mechanism for the victims of INTERPOL abuse?  While the General Assembly approved the organization’s budget for 2022, the already strained budget of the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files responsible for adjudicating complaints from individuals challenging government use of INTERPOL’s resources was left virtually unchanged.  This is despite the growing number of cases before the Commission.  Finally, the 89th INTERPOL General Assembly did not consider the much-needed reforms necessary to guarantee victims of INTERPOL abuse due process.

Clearly, the majority of INTERPOL member countries do not take the abuse of the organization’s channels seriously.  If they did, the results of the 89th General Assembly would be very different – it would have selected a different president, passed the reforms to close the loopholes in the INTERPOL redress mechanism and significantly increased the budget of the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files.

Imagine the Taliban Using INTERPOL

Imagine the Taliban Using INTERPOL

For several days, the world watched Afghanistan fall into the hands of the Taliban.  What seems even more stunning than the speed with which the country has been taken over is what appears to be the readiness of some politicians, including those representing Western democracies, to recognize the new regime as a legitimate government.  Let us imagine the Taliban using INTERPOL.

Shortly after the takeover began, INTERPOL reportedly suspended Afghanistan’s access to its databases. The organization acted swiftly and properly in this case.  Evidently, using INTERPOL to track down top members of the overthrown government was among the new regime’s top priorities, as just days after they left the country, it requested that INTERPOL put them on the international wanted list.  Once again, not only does this prove INTERPOL’s major role in fighting crime, but its image as an effective and powerful tool in political conflicts as well.  It is important to note that INTERPOL has reportedly not approved the requests.

It is highly unlikely, however, that the Taliban’s ambition to track down its opponents will end with the country’s former heads of state and their cabinet members.  In this regard, past experience shows that when the targets are high-ranking officials, INTERPOL is often proactive and ready to prevent the abuse of its channels before it occurs, especially when a government request is submitted during or shortly after a turbulent political event in the country.  Unfortunately, INTERPOL is rarely proactive in other cases, and if the Taliban is recognized as a legitimate power and the country’s access to INTERPOL’s databases is restored, many of those who manage to leave Afghanistan will likely face the same fate as so many human rights activists, journalists, bloggers, scholars, and others who have become victims of INTERPOL abuse committed by other countries.

Following their withdrawal from Afghanistan, for the United States and its allies, the problem of INTERPOL abuse is about to become as topical as ever taking into consideration the large number of refugees, including interpreters and others whose help the coalition depended on during its 20-year-long presence in the country.  The question is, will this make the United States and its allies finally recognize the urgency of further reforms within INTERPOL and the need for their active participation in that process?


INTERPOL Abuse: Expulsion of Countries-Abusers from INTERPOL is Not an Answer

INTERPOL Abuse: Expulsion of Countries-Abusers from INTERPOL is Not an Answer

INTERPOL Headquarters, Lyon, France

Over the last several years, INTERPOL has carried out important reforms to its mechanism of adjudicating complaints from individuals challenging government use of the organization’s resources.  However, despite the reforms, abuse continues on a very large scale.  It does not mean, however, that the reforms have failed. In fact, the majority of them have proven to be steps in the right direction, bringing the mechanism closer to providing individuals due process.  The situation around INTERPOL abuse has not significantly improved because the organization has failed to carry out all the necessary reforms.  For example, individuals challenging abusive red notices and diffusions still do not have the right to a hearing, examine evidence produced by governments and appeal decisions denying their requests to delete information from INTERPOL’s files.  Even if INTERPOL carried out all the necessary reforms, it is unlikely that abuse would stop completely and forever.  Governments with no respect for the rule of law would almost certainly carry on with their attempts to misuse its channels, although it would be much harder for them to succeed.  At the same time, if INTERPOL does not implement all the necessary safeguards and fails to guarantee individuals due process, there is very little hope that abuse will decrease; on the contrary, in all likelihood, it will keep growing.

There have been many ideas on how to fight INTERPOL abuse, one of which is a harsh punishment for abusers.  The proposal to strip countries-offenders of their INTERPOL membership and, as a consequence, deny them access to the organization’s resources, has become very popular among commentators in the media and on social networks.  However, some lawyers and human rights advocates who specialize in defending victims of red notice and diffusion abuse have already come out strongly against the idea.  I have always belonged to the latter group.

At first glance, expulsion of governments which use INTERPOL for political or other unlawful purposes may seem like an effective remedy.  After all, a government without access to INTERPOL’s channels cannot misuse them.  This proposal has a major downside.  The expulsion of just one country may negatively affect the remaining members of the organization.  A government without access to INTERPOL’s databases might not be able to identify criminals wanted by other countries or inform foreign law enforcement about criminals entering their territories.  This could be detrimental to regional and global security.

It is not just the information about individuals wanted for criminal prosecution that is stored in INTERPOL’s files.  The organization helps its members exchange information crucial in their criminal investigations.  This includes forensic information that can help solve crimes, identify missing persons and rescue crime victims.  In this regard, INTERPOL places special emphasis on victims of child abuse and helps fight international child sexual exploitation.  In addition, INTERPOL’s databases contain information about stolen and lost travel documents, counterfeit documents and documents that help identify stolen property (vehicles, vessels, works of art etc.).  INTERPOL’s information also helps governments identify illegally trafficked firearms, investigate organized crime networks and fight maritime piracy.  Denying a government access to any of these data may impede legitimate investigations and punish crime victims.  Such a measure cannot be considered balanced or responsible.

It has been suggested that instead of suspending or terminating countries’ INTERPOL membership we should be punishing government officials responsible for unlawful prosecutions behind abusive red notices, diffusions and other requests submitted to INTERPOL.  I agree with that view.  Even if such punishment is not imposed on the global level, that is, by all INTERPOL members, the national laws of just one country may prove to be a serious punishment and deterrent.  For example, the U.S. Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act empowers the President of the United States to impose sanctions on “any foreign person” who “based on credible evidence:

(1) is responsible for . . . gross violations of internationally recognized human rights committed against individuals in any foreign country who seek (A) to expose illegal activity carried out by government officials; or (B) to obtain, exercise, defend, or promote internationally recognized human rights and freedoms . . . ;

(2) acted as an agent of or on behalf of a foreign person in a matter relating to an activity described in paragraph (1);

(3) is a government official, or a senior associate of such an official, that is responsible for, or complicit in, ordering, controlling, or otherwise directing, acts of significant corruption, including the expropriation of private and public assets for personal gain . . . ; or

(4) has materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services in support of, an activity described in paragraph (3).”

Among the sanctions described in the U.S. Global Magnitsky Act are ineligibility to receive a visa to enter the United States, revocation of an already issued visa, and blocking all transactions in all property the sanctioned person has interests in.  Other countries have followed the United States’ example and either already implemented or started debating their own versions of the Global Magnitsky Act.  Taking into consideration the significant efforts some individuals affected by the Act have engaged in to lift the sanctions, it has proven to be a serious response to their conduct.

Therefore, we must remember that there is at least one way to hold those who engage in INTERPOL abuse accountable without disrupting legitimate international police cooperation.  We should be working towards achieving this balance.

CCF Latest Report: Enforcement Loopholes, Political Prosecutions of Businessmen, Lack of Transparency

CCF Latest Report: Enforcement Loopholes, Political Prosecutions of Businessmen, Lack of Transparency

INTERPOL Headquarters, Lyon, France

The Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files (CCF) has published its new annual report.  It covers the Commission’s activities throughout 2017, including the transition it has undergone to comply with its new Statute adopted by the INTERPOL General Assembly.  The report also reflects on the problems with the enforcement of decisions to remove politically motivated or otherwise unlawful red notices and diffusions, the Commission’s application of Article 3 of the INTERPOL Constitution, and the lack of transparency in its public disclosures.

Last year, Spanish authorities detained Bill Browder, a prominent critic of Vladimir Putin.  Although the full circumstances of this arrest remain unclear, it has been alleged that Spain acted on an active Russian request disseminated through INTERPOL’s channels.  Prior to this arrest, Russia had made several attempts to publish a red notice against Mr. Browder.  INTERPOL had refused to cooperate and called the case predominantly political.  Nevertheless, in 2017, Russia reportedly succeeded in disseminating a diffusion against Mr. Browder.  Unlike red notices, diffusions aren’t subject to any screening from INTERPOL prior to their publication.

After Mr. Browder’s arrest in Spain, INTERPOL’s enforcement of the Commission’s decisions became the center of attention.  Did INTERPOL successfully block each and every red notice and diffusion already found to be in violation of its rules from being disseminated?  I can think of only two reasons why an individual found to be a victim of INTERPOL abuse would appear on the international wanted list at the same country’s request: either INTERPOL did not have a comprehensive mechanism that would match incoming red notices and diffusions with its prior findings of abuse, or the organization had an unspoken policy which would under certain circumstances allow the same governments to put victims of their abuse back on the wanted list.

According to its latest report, “[t]he Commission dealt with cases where the sources of data have sent a diffusion to INTERPOL members to request the arrest of an individual, whereas a request for a red notice has previously been refused.”  Moreover, “[i]t also processed requests which highlighted the use of the SLTD [(Stolen and Lost Travel Documents)] database where a diffusion or a notice to arrest a person was considered not to comply with INTERPOL’s rules.”  In the report, the Commission calls this practice “misuse of INTERPOL’s channels,” and notes that it deletes any such data and informs the countries which received it that its channels cannot be used in such cases.  The report, therefore, confirms that INTERPOL does not possess a comprehensive mechanism that would preclude the same governments from putting individuals found to be victims of red notice and diffusion abuse on the INTERPOL wanted list.  This is, of course, unfortunate, because the loophole should be easy to fix by simply implementing a reliable computer software.  The recent reforms aimed at guaranteeing individuals an effective remedy against INTERPOL abuse seem futile if governments can with impunity (taking into consideration INTERPOL’s unwillingness to punish countries-abusers) harass their victims by utilizing diffusions or the SLTD database. The question remains, after an abusive government exercises all these ‘options,’ is this the end of harassment, or is there yet another way to put the same individual back on the international wanted list by, for example, charging her/him with a new crime or issuing a different type of notice?

Another major takeaway from the Commission’s latest report is its application of Article 3 of the INTERPOL Constitution.  In its 2016 annual report, the Commission for the first time in its annual public disclosures recognized politically motivated prosecutions of businessmen among the main issues before it.  At the same time, it did not comment on its application of Article 3 in cases in which individuals have not actively engaged in any political activities but instead became victims of corrupt prosecutions, for example, in aid of an illegal takeover of their businesses or other proprietary rights.  Some of the published excerpts from the Commission’s decisions in individual cases suggest that it has applied Article 3 in such cases despite the fact that there has been no active political activity on the part of the individuals challenging the governments’ use of INTERPOL’s channels.  The 2017 annual report also suggests that the Commission has taken this approach: “While a few of [Article 3] cases involve former high-ranking politicians, most of them concern people involved in business activities and charged with various fraud-related offenses.”  Although the Commission still has not unequivocally confirmed that Article 3 applies in such cases, its published decisions and the latest annual report suggest that it does.

The third important takeaway from the 2017 report is that the Commission has still not truly become any more transparent and yet again avoided disclosing the names of countries that have violated its rules.  Despite the growing attention being paid to INTERPOL abuse, the number of instances in which the public learns about the countries-abusers and the nature of their violations is very low compared to the growing number of complaints the Commission receives from individuals.  In its 2010 annual report the Commission identified member countries against which it had received the majority of complaints without, however, naming the countries the Commission found to be in violation of INTERPOL’s rules and the nature of their violations.  None of the Commission’s reports for the following years, including its most recent report, identifies member countries against which the Commission has received complaints, the number of times the Commission found those countries in violations of its rules or the nature of their violations.  The Commission purview clearly empowers it to disclose this information to the general public.

American Bar Association Panel ‘Red Notices and the INTERPOL Wanted List: Balancing Law Enforcement with Due Process’

American Bar Association Panel ‘Red Notices and the INTERPOL Wanted List: Balancing Law Enforcement with Due Process’

On January 29, 2019, Theodore Bromund (The Heritage Foundation), Michelle Estlund (Estlund Law), Yuriy Nemets (Nemets Law Firm), Rebecca Schaeffer (Fair Trials) and Bruce Zagaris (Berliner Corcoran & Rowe) spoke at the event ‘Red Notices and the INTERPOL Wanted List: Balancing Law Enforcement with Due Process’ organized by the American Bar Association (ABA) and Association of Certified Financial Crime Specialists (ACFCS).  The panel discussed the problem of INTERPOL abuse by governments that use the organization’s resources to persecute political opponents and other victims of unlawful criminal prosecutions:

United States Senators Introduce a Bill Against Russia’s Abuse of INTERPOL’s Resources

United States Senators Introduce a Bill Against Russia’s Abuse of INTERPOL’s Resources

Senators Graham, Menendez, Gardner, and Cardin have recently introduced a bipartisan bill called “Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act of 2018.”  In addition to promoting the strengthening of the NATO alliance, increasing diplomatic efforts, fighting against international cybercrime, election interference and other measures, the bill addresses Russia’s abuse of INTERPOL’s resources: “It is the sense of Congress that the Government of the Russian Federation has abused and misused INTERPOL’s red notice and red diffusion mechanisms for overly political purposes and activities such as intimidating, harassing, and persecuting political opponents.”  If the bill becomes law, it will be the first US law specifically targeting Russia for its abuse of INTERPOL’s channels.

The United States Capitol, Washington DC

The bill calls upon the United States Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security to “use the voice and influence of the United States at INTERPOL to censure and sanction” Russia for its abuse of the organization’s resources, “including the suspension of [its] ability to use INTERPOL’s red notice and red diffusion mechanisms.”  It is important to remember that the United States, like any other member country, has only one vote at the INTERPOL General Assembly.  To address Russia’s abuse of red notices and diffusions, the United States will have to convince the majority of the organization’s member countries to join its efforts.  Although the bill largely leaves it to the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security to decide on specific steps, it clearly obliges the agencies to actively seek a solution to the problem.

In addition to calling for increased efforts in the international arena, the bill contains important protections the United States would provide the victims of INTERPOL abuse: “No United States person or foreign person that is the subject of a red notice or red diffusion requested by the Government of the Russian Federation shall be denied access to any United States Government services or programs because the person is subject to such red notice or diffusion, including requesting asylum, requesting a visa, or participating in a visa waiver program or the Transportation Security Administration’s Trusted Traveler Program.”  Although a red notice or diffusion on its own should not serve as proof of any misconduct on the part of the individual and, therefore, be used to deny her or him any of the services mentioned in the bill, in practice, US officials have often mistakenly interpreted red notices and diffusions as precisely that – evidence of criminal behavior.

Reportedly, there have been cases in which United States immigration judges denied asylum-seekers bond or refugee status or both and cited red notices or diffusions as a basis for their decisions.  In such cases, immigration authorities have wrongly interpreted red notices and diffusions as evidence against asylum-seekers.  At the same time, unlike asylum cases, which are often reviewed in courts and become a matter of public record, visa denials are rarely subject to judicial review, and there is no publicly available data regarding the number of visa applications denied due to an active red notice or diffusion.  Despite the lack of comprehensive statistics, practitioners have sounded the alarm on the ever increasing number of such denials.  It is, therefore, both timely and critical for Congress to put an end to this unlawful practice and adopt a law clearly proclaiming that red notices and diffusions are not admissible as evidence against the individual in question, whether it be an extradition, asylum or any other matter.

It is also important to remember that Russia is far from being the only abuser of INTERPOL’s channels, although it is arguably among the major ones.  That is why US efforts should not be limited to specific countries.  We need to help INTERPOL prevent the abuse or, at the very least, minimize it no matter who the abuser is.  It is also important to remember that suspending the Russian government, or any other government, from issuing red notices and diffusions, as suggested in the bill, could have serious negative consequences for the security of the rest of INTERPOL’s 191 member countries.  INTERPOL’s regulations give the organization the power to suspend any country’s use of its databases if the country utilizes them for unlawful purposes.  It is not clear whether INTERPOL has ever resorted to this measure.  However, such a measure could do more harm than good by crippling legitimate international police cooperation.  If a country cannot access the INTERPOL databases, it might not be able to prevent real criminals from entering its territory and thereby escaping justice.  At the same time, if a government’s access is suspended, and it cannot put individuals on the international wanted list, other governments may not be able to identify real criminals coming from a country with suspended access and thereby unwillingly provide them shelter and the ability to continue their criminal activities in their territory.  Indeed, there are other measures that have been proposed which INTERPOL could adopt to minimize red notice and diffusion abuse without disrupting legitimate international police cooperation.


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.

INTERPOL Red Notice Abuse: Whistleblowers Have Rights Too

INTERPOL Red Notice Abuse: Whistleblowers Have Rights Too

It has been reported that INTERPOL has refused to cooperate with Russia in the case of Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of Russia’s anti-doping laboratory-turned-whistleblower.  Mr. Rochenkov has publicly accused the Russian government of running a doping scheme during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.  Mr. Rodchenkov’s case may look like just another government trying to abuse INTERPOL’s resources to persecute a political opponent.  However, it stands out because the target of the red notice is a whistleblower wanted not because of his political beliefs but because as a previous insider, he witnessed and exposed the government’s misconduct.

Mr. Rodchenkov’s story prompted the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to investigate the allegations.  Mr. Rodchenkov’s story is described in media reports and the Academy Award-winning documentary “Icarus.”  After Mr. Rodchenkov went public with his story, the Russian government filed criminal charges against him.  He managed to leave the country, and Russian law enforcement sought INTERPOL’s cooperation in locating him and bringing him back.

INTERPOL’s rules don’t specifically address the red notice abuse against whistleblowers.  Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the INTERPOL Constitution and the organization’s regulations based on it protect whistleblowers to the same degree they protect politicians, activists, reporters, entrepreneurs, and other individuals who often become victims of politically motivated criminal charges.  Mr. Rodchenkov’s case proves that to comply with its Constitution, which strictly prohibits INTERPOL from undertaking any activity of a political nature, it is crucial for the organization to protect whistleblowers from the abuse of its resources.


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