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Red Notice Monitor Editor Rhys Davies quoted in CITY AM | Alibaba donation to Interpol raises undue influence concerns




 

Interpol Red Notice lawyer Rhys Davies was featured in City AM on 15 February 2024, providing expert commentary on Alibaba’s recent donation to Interpol.


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Experts have raised concerns about Interpol’s funding arrangements after their accounts revealed Alibaba has donated over half a million euros to the organisation. 


The Chinese e-commerce giant donated €512,000 to the international police agency to help tackle “trafficking in illicit goods and counterfeiting” over the last four years, according to Interpol’s funding documents.


The firm gave the contribution, which has not previously been reported, in 2018 to help fund its Illicit Goods and Global Health programme until 2021. 


A spokesperson for Interpol told City A.M. that this was a “one-off contribution” and because of the pandemic not all of the funds were used in 2021, meaning some were used in 2022. 


Interpol has not published its voluntary funding donations for 2023, but the spokesperson said that “any Interpol activities funded by Alibaba concluded in 2022 and there has not been any further funding from Alibaba since”. 


Some Alibaba sites have been criticised for failing to clampdown on the sale of counterfeit goods. 


The US Trade Representative (USTR), the agency responsible for developing and promoting US trade, flagged such issues in its latest review of notorious markets for counterfeiting and piracy. 


While the agency acknowledged that Alibaba is known for having anti-counterfeiting processes and systems “that are among the best in the e-commerce industry,” it reported concerns with two of its sites, AliExpress and Taobao.


Despite Alibaba’s efforts, “right holders report the continued lack of effective seller vetting and repeat infringer controls, such that AliExpress is a dominant upstream distributor of counterfeit goods in wholesale quantities for online markets in the United States and other countries,” the USTR said. 


On Taobao, the agency said: “Some right holders have indicated that Taobao improved its response time for takedown requests, but many right holders continue to raise concerns about the pervasiveness of counterfeit goods on the platform.” Alibaba did not respond to a request for comment. 


The Interpol spokesperson said that all contributions from the private sector “are subject to specific due diligence guidelines”. 


But Danielle Reece-Greenhalgh, a lawyer who regularly deals with cases involving Interpol, told City A.M. that voluntary donations like this one raise questions about the agency’s funding arrangements. 


In 2022, while the agency received €69m in statutory contributions, funding from member states, it collected €86m in voluntary funding, €53m in cash and €33m in-kind, from a mix of state agencies and international organisations and some private companies.


“Voluntary contributions are clearly vital to the work of Interpol, but there is a lack of transparency about the extent to which voluntary contributions by private companies to a particular taskforce, such as the policing of counterfeit goods, enables those companies access to Interpol itself,” said Reece-Greenhalgh, who is a partner at law firm Corker Binning. 


Robert Barrington, a professor of anti-corruption practice at the Centre for the Study of Corruption in the University of Sussex, told City A.M.: “It is a very strange situation for private companies to be able to donate to a law enforcement agency, which raises several red flags.”


Rhys Davies, a barrister and an editor of the Interpol-focused Red Notice Monitor blog, told City A.M. he felt “very uneasy” about the fact that private companies are still giving Interpol money, adding that Alibaba’s donation “opens up questions about whether or not there is undue influence being exercised”. 


“The problem you have here is that when you look at Interpol’s record, they’ve previously taken sums of money from organisations which come to the landscape with less-than-clean hands,” he said. 


The crime-fighting agency was mired in controversy back in 2015 after it emerged that scandal-hit FIFA had donated €20m, over a 10-year period, to the organisation to support a program designed to protect sport from fraud and corruption, such as illegal betting and match fixing. 


It came under similar scrutiny years earlier for accepting €15m, over a three-year period, from tobacco giant Philip Morris International, to combat the sale of counterfeit cigarettes – a donation that later led to Interpol being blocked from the World Health Organization Convention on Tobacco Control. 


Interpol has cut back on contributions from private companies since these donations were revealed – a decision which Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock recently said led to a “difficult couple of years”.


“In 2014, the private sector represented 42 per cent of Interpol’s voluntary funding, compared to just over one per cent in 2022,” the Interpol spokesperson said.


But the Alibaba donation highlights that the agency hasn’t put an end to private sector donations. 


“In order to avoid any criticism of Interpol being subjected to undue influence, it should be accepting money only from public bodies,” Davies suggested. 


Reece-Greenhalgh said the agency needs to be more transparent about its voluntary donations going forward. 


“If Interpol wishes to continue receiving private funding, it is likely that it will need to make changes to how this is assessed and recorded in order to reassure the general public that companies and badly behaving states are not buying themselves access to information and policing resources for their own benefit,” she said. 


This article was first published in City AM on 15 February 2024, you can view the original article here. 


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Rhys Davies is a barrister at Temple Garden Chambers specializing in international criminal law and human rights law. He has represented clients in numerous high-profile cases, including those involving torture, extradition, and Interpol Red Notices.


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