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  • Ben Keith and Amy Woolfson

Interpol must clean up its act

Updated: Mar 18, 2022

The organisation needs to improve its checks and balances to stop processes being abused by corrupt regimes.

Ben Keith and Amy Woolfson comment in The Times on 23 September 2021

Interpol continues to be abused by repressive regimes to reach beyond their borders to silence critics.

The recent arrest of Yidiresi Aishan, a Uyghur activist, in Morocco on a Chinese “red notice” shows how critics of the regime can be easily targeted. After an outcry from human rights activists, the notice against Aishan was cancelled.

But Aishan remains in custody in Morocco and at real risk of extradition to China. The damage of the repressive action has already been done.

Belarus has been trying to get in on the act and issued a red notice to arrest the activist Makary Malachowski. He was detained in Warsaw this month and has now been released after intervention from lawyers and campaigners there.

That notice was issued for political reasons. Malachowski was part of the anti-government protests in Belarus but is by no means a leading politician. He has called for Interpol to scrutinise more carefully red notices from Belarus.

Better scrutiny of Interpol notices from repressive regimes is a clarion call repeated often. Time and again Interpol shrugs and looks away. Many states blindly trust its filters and so are inclined to take the notices at face value. It can take lawyers months to show the political motivations even to sympathetic jurisdictions.

Even in Europe there are problems. This year the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled on the compatibility of Interpol’s practice and procedures with EU law. The judges gave Interpol a telling off, making clear that it must be more circumspect with its data processing.

The manager of a large German company was under investigation in relation to bribery allegations through his company in Argentina. In 2009, the German prosecutor accepted the payment of a fine in relation to the investigation and closed the case. That, thought the businessman, was the end of the matter.

However, the United States also investigated the case and issued a red notice. Interpol was informed that the proceedings had been closed and that further prosecution would violate the principle of double jeopardy. But only the US could delete the notice and until then, the businessman risked arrest if he left Germany.

In a significant departure from previous practice, the EU court stated that where a court in a Schengen member state had made a determination of double jeopardy, other member states were bound by it.

In the short term, that finding may cause a significant breakdown in the ability of Interpol to go about its business. In the longer term, it should spur the organisation to improve its checks and balances, so that it properly gives effect to the promises it makes in its constitution and stops allowing its processes to be abused by corrupt regimes.

This article was first published in The Times on 23 September 2021 and can be accessed in full here.


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