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  • Ben Keith

Interpol at 100: Small changes on the horizon

Interpol is celebrating its 100 year anniversary and opened its doors to hold a rare press conference. Journalists were keen to attend the event and interview the key figures, in particular the General Secretary Jürgen Stock. Unfortunately, he was unwell but appeared on video to answer a limited number of questions about Interpol’s 100 years. However, more interesting was the announcement of Stephen Kavanaugh's intention to run for the position of General Secretary in 2024 when Stock is due to step down after 10 years at the helm. The second piece of news is that a new head of communications, Samuel Heath, has been hired. Mr Heath was the Director of Communications for the British Embassy in Washington and has vast experience of diplomatic communications.

Stephen Kavanagh is presently the deputy to Jürgen Stock at Interpol. He is a former senior UK Police Officer and was Chief Constable of Essex Police until his retirement in 2018. There have been reports that there may be a Chinese and a Brazilian candidate for the position. The public announcement of a candidacy is a welcome change from the usual secrecy surrounding Interpol. When Major General Al-Raissi was elected President the news of his candidacy was a leak as a result of leaflets being printed – but there were few if any details of his rivals. Sadly, even in the face of the report showing the UAE’s ignorance of human rights and the subsequent charges faced by him for being complicit in torture he remains President of Interpol. The allegations have never been responded to.

Mr Kavanagh had a distinguished career as a police officer and was awarded the Queen’s Policing Medal for his services. The question will be whether he is more diplomatic than his predecessor and able to address some of the real issues at the heart of Interpol: funding, corruption and neutrality. This blog’s issue with Mr Stock is that he fails to acknowledge there are any issues. Everything is secret and so journalists and commentators are left to speculate on the problems.

The issue of funding is one that Stock has tried to remedy, it was after all him who stopped the funding by FIFA and tobacco companies. Sadly, after that the funding model has unravelled – Interpol needs proper funding and too much of it is as a result of voluntary contributions. The taking of €50millon from the UAE through an arms length charity which Stock was a Trustee of, looked from the outside similar to a money laundering scheme – and ended with the UAE getting the Presidency. More recently €1million was accepted from Saudi Arabia who are bankrolling everyone from football, to golf and policing. The difference is of course that Interpol can lead to arrest and detention which if extradited to Saudi Arabia can result in death or torture, not to mention targeted assassination such as Jamal Khashoggi. Better funding is vital but it should not be at the expense of fundamental human rights.

The issues with neutrality and the abuse of the Interpol Red Notice system are well documented on this blog. Since 2016 procedures have been reformed, although Stock insists that nothing is wrong. As I told the Associated Press, all the Interpol Red Notice Lawyers I know are dealing with many cases of political manipulation of the Interpol Red Notice System with notices issued since 2016. China and Russia continue to top our experience but they are not the only ones, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and South Korea, whilst not many in number, are often highly politicised requests.

So that brings us back to the new director of communications. Interpol’s problem with the press is easy to see. Stock has Ostrich-like tendencies to the press, all that is being said is that there is nothing to see. Recently there has been the odd glimpse of light – for instance the press conference did say that two jurisdictions are in remedial measures – but there were no further details. If the new team are able to admit that not everything is perfect and that perhaps they need help and funding there might be a cause for hope that there will be real change.


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