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  • Rhys Davies

An Unexpected Insight into a Political Red Notice

Michael Parulava via Unsplash

From time-to-time, Interpol publishes information on the deletion of Red Notices. In our earlier Red Notice Monitor blog, we examined Interpol’s approach to the publication of anonymised “decision excerpts”. Those excerpts can be extremely helpful in understanding the approach of the Commission for the Control of Files (CCF) to applications for the deletion of Red Notices, but the excerpts are very far from being a comprehensive body of case law. Broad principles can be readily divined, but in the absence of comprehensive disclosure of decisions, onlookers are sometimes left scratching their heads as to why a Red Notice may or may not have been deleted. Occasionally, however, something emerges which shines a little more light on the CCF’s decision making process.

It may have come as something of a surprise to Interpol watchers when The Intercept website published an article on 11th September[1], setting out in detail why a US requested Red Notice against Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin had been removed. That the Red Notice against Prigozhin - a close confidant of Vladimir Putin and Chief of the notorious Russian paramilitary organisation, the Wagner Group - had been removed was no secret. But the reasons for that removal were not widely known. In February 2018, Prigozhin was one of thirteen Russians indicted by a US Federal Grand Jury for allegedly interfering in the American elections. Prigozhin was said to have “controlled the entity that financed the troll factory, known as the Internet Research Agency, which waged information warfare against the United States[2].

Yet the Red Notice that followed was withdrawn in 2020 with little fanfare. As The Intercept reported, “the only announcement of the move came from one of Prigozhin’s companies, though without an explanation of why it happened”. However, The Intercept’s analysis, authored by Alice Speri, along with the apparent accompanying CCF decision - now provides intriguing new information as to how and why the Interpol Red Notice was reversed[3].

The CCF’s heavily redacted document states, “The existence of [restricted] the political aspect in the context of the case and the charges which cannot be excluded, leads the Commission to determine that maintaining the data challenged would have significant adverse implications for the neutrality of the Organization, [emphasis added] in that there is a significant potential (because of these factors) of the Organization being perceived as siding with one country against another or facilitating politically motivated activities. This is not to say that the US charges should not be borne out in national judicial proceedings or that they are not lawful; however, the function of the Commission is to control whether the processing of data in Interpol’s files meets Interpol’s applicable legal requirements and thus whether, in view of Article 3 of its Constitution, Interpol’s channels can be used.

This is a strange turn of phrase – not a politically motivated Red Notice but a concern that Interpol might not be seen a neutral. The CCF’s decision goes on to conclude that, at paragraph 91, “In view of all these elements, the Commission finds that even assuming that the offences as described would be of an common-law character, there is a predominant political dimension to this case and that the information provided by the US NCB does not satisfy the requirements of Article 3 of Interpol’s Constitution[4].

Prigozhin has previously issued a statement effectively admitting that he had meddled in the US election, stating “We have interfered, are interfering and will continue to interfere. Carefully, precisely, surgically and in our own way”. The Intercept goes on to note that, “Prigozhin’s admission that he did in fact seek to interfere in U.S. elections is also likely to renew questions about Interpol at a time when the agency is already facing intense criticism that it is vulnerable to political exploitation.

The publication of CCF’s decision in the Prigozhin case is not only intriguing in such a high-profile case but it also provides a useful insight into the approach that the CCF may adopt when applying the predominance test in relation to political cases. As the CCF set out at paragraph 81 of its determination, “The Commission nevertheless finds that while there is a narrative of alleged illegal activities…the questions raised by the applicants regarding the validity, accuracy and possible political nature of the charges cannot be ignored.

It would seem, therefore, that notwithstanding the underlying alleged ordinary law criminality, the CCF examined much broader geopolitical concerns and a corresponding political taint, as well explicitly stating concerns about the implications for the neutrality of Interpol. These were such as to lead the CCF to conclude the Red Notice should be removed. As lawyers are fond of saying, every case turns on its own facts, but this case provides a useful insight as to the breadth of situations in which the CCF may be inclined to find a predominant political dimension to a Red Notice.


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