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Guest Blog by Radosveta Vassileva Part Two: A Firsthand Account of Bulgaria’s Interpol Abuse
In this second of a two-part guest blog by Radosveta Vassileva, the legal scholar writes about Bulgaria's attempt to manipulate the Commission for the Control of Interpol Files and how eventually, Vassileva was able to successfully appeal against the politically motivated Red Notices and Diffusions. The blog concludes by summarising what lessons can be learnt about Interpol's dangerously dysfunctional processes.
CCF’s decision on Diffusion and Red Notice
In both my mother’s and my case, Bulgaria’s Prosecutor’s Office referred to identical, flamboyant charges – money-laundering. In reality, they were trying to criminalize the purchase of two properties in transparent transactions, duly declared to the tax authorities – I had bought a flat and my mom had bought a house with money directly given to us by my father via official and personal bank transfers, prior to any of the above-mentioned events.
In both our pre-charge decrees, the Prosecutor’s Office argued this was money-laundering because my mom and I unconditionally and undisputedly knew that my father was implicated in serious criminal activity. No crime against my father has been proven to this day, and at the time of purchase there had been no criminal investigation against him.
While we challenged my mom’s Red Notice and my Diffusion separately, the CCF came out with a joint decision, declaring that both were non-compliant with Interpol’s Rules on Processing Data and ordering their deletion. We argued lack of evidentiary basis, unlawfulness, and political persecution. The CCF examined the lack of evidentiary basis first and stated that it would not examine the other arguments as it could reach its decision on the first submission alone.
The CCF cited Article 2(1) of Interpol’s Constitution in conjunction with Article 12 of the RPD, which stipulates the requirements for “quality” of data. The CCF concluded that all the Prosecutor’s Office had demonstrated was that it was “plausible” that my mom and I bought properties with money directly received from my father. Ultimately, the CCF “[did] not find there to be any concrete element as to a criminal intent or illicit act…”.
A Red Notice to sabotage the deletion of another Red Notice
Our case also shows that a Prosecutor’s Office acting in bad faith can misuse Interpol’s system to sabotage the deletion of a Red Notice.
Soon after we challenged my father’s first Red Notice we received a message from the CCF that their examination of his case would be postponed because the Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office had in the interim issued a second Red Notice for him. The CCF asked my father to comment on another extravagant charge: “Offense against the order and the public peace – arranging with one or more persons to commit crimes in the country or abroad, aiming to obtain property benefit or exercising illegal influence on the activity of a body of the authority or of the local independent government”.
Тhis was the first time my father had heard of these disturbing, yet incomprehensible charges. Moreover, pursuant to Article 10(2) of the RPD, the purpose of a Red Notice is to “search for a wanted person” or to “locate a person”. At the time, the location of my dad was well known – he was facing extradition proceedings in Serbia. Moreover, under Bulgarian law, pre-charges are not valid unless they have been served according to law. The lawful way to serve them in these circumstances would be via the Ministry of Justice in Serbia.
After the CCF asked my dad to comment on these charges, he asked his Bulgarian lawyer to inquire about them before Bulgaria’s Prosecutor’s Office. In writing, they gave an astounding answer: “the charges cannot be served due to objective reasons and unforeseen circumstances” (they still have not been served to this day). What Kafkaesque absurdity!
CCF’s initial decision
The Prosecutor’s Office had sent additional information about my dad along with a second Red Notice when it learned that the CCF would examine the compliance of the first Red Notice.
The CCF handed down a decision concerning both Red Notices against my father. Regarding the second, the CCF concluded that it breached Article 10 of the UDHR (the right to trial) because no attempt had been made to serve the charges on crimes against public peace. As such, it was deleted.
Regarding his first, the CCF admitted that there were “political interests at stake” in the case, but that the case was not predominantly political. Therefore, the CCF did not delete the second Red Notice. Sadly, the CCF credited a report sent by the Prosecutor’s Office along with the second Red Notice as proof of guilt - it claimed my father is a danger to Bulgaria’s economy, is responsible for the fact that there is no FDI in Bulgaria, is guilty for the fact that Bulgaria is not part of the Eurozone, and is a threat to Bulgaria’s national security. The same report was sent to the Serbian courts for my dad’s extradition proceedings. It is a mystery to me how such pompous, yet groundless conclusions have any legal value to serve as proof in criminal proceedings – as such, the Serbian courts exercised sound judgment in putting it aside.
The final deletion of the first Red Notice
After my father was granted political asylum, we approached the CCF again for the deletion of the first Red Notice, presenting new facts on which the CCF may reach a different conclusion (Article 42 of CCF’s Statute). The CCF held that the notice was non-compliant with the RPD and referred to Articles 10(1) on the purpose of Interpol and Article 12 on the “quality” of data of the RPD as well as Interpol’s policies on refugees.
Some thoughts on Interpol’s dysfunctionalities
Four abuses of Interpol’s system were possible because of loopholes in the RPD and because of structural dysfunctionalities of Bulgaria’s justice system allowing the Prosecutor’s Office to act with impunity. There are several lessons to take away:
In countries facing severe rule of law decay and especially where the NCBs are mere extensions of the Prosecutor’s Office, the NCBs cannot be trusted to verify compliance with the RPD, as envisaged in the RPD.
Article 83(2)(b)(v) of the RPD merely requires a “reference to a valid arrest warrant”, so all the requesting state has to do is to claim it has valid charges and a valid arrest warrant. It does not have to prove it has valid charges and a valid arrest warrant. Its words are taken at face value. This loophole made my mom’s Red Notice and my father’s second Red Notice possible.
Diffusions are the easiest and quickest way to weaponize against an inconvenient person living abroad, especially if the person’s international schedule is public. It would take merely a few hours to draft some pre-charges, issue an (unlawful) arrest warrant, and a Diffusion based on it.
Both the General Secretariat and the CCF treat Red Notices from Bulgaria with undeserved deference just because Bulgaria is an EU member. This explains why it took much longer to prove the non-compliance of my father’s first Red Notice with the RPD. In fact, my father was never charged for the alleged crime for which the Prosecutor’s Office issued his first Red Notice to begin with. Despite this, it was sufficient for the CCF to initially maintain this notice just because he was charged with something else, even though he was already located and in extradition proceedings at the time.
Dr. Radosveta Vassileva is a Visiting Research Fellow at Middlesex University. She holds a PhD in Law from University College London where she also served as a Teaching Fellow. You can find out more about her work by following a link to her blog, here.