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  • Red Notice Monitor

Reputational challenge: Interpol accepts $1.2m donation from Saudi Arabia

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

Despite the lingering international outcry over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, Saudi Arabia’s leaders continue to be welcomed with open arms around the world. Saudi muscle meant that it was always likely that realpolitik would triumph over residual moral revulsion. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is due to visit the UK on official visits this autumn despite accusations that he orchestrated the murder of Khashoggi in 2018[1].

The UK is not alone in continuing its tradition of holding its nose when it comes to dealing with Saudi Arabia. Reports last month emerged that Saudi Arabia has been spending cash with INTERPOL. The Arab News reported that Saudi has “donated $1.12m towards a tech-driven INTERPOL crime fighting initiative[2]. The cash contribution was reported to be part of “the Kingdom’s efforts to tackle crime while increasing INTERPOL’s ability to combat organised and international criminal networks”. These are, of course, laudable aims, bit one might be legitimately a little circumspect about this donation.

Saudi Arabia is widely perceived to be one of the world’s most oppressive regimes, scoring a pitiful 7 out of 100 on Freedom House Freedom in the World ranking and is resolutely “not free[3]. Freedom House also notes that:

Saudi Arabia’s absolute monarchy restricts almost all political rights and civil liberties. No officials at the national level are elected. The regime relies on pervasive surveillance, the criminalization of dissent, appeals to sectarianism and ethnicity, and public spending supported by oil revenues to maintain power.”

INTERPOL’s financing structure has long been, in part, based on accepting donations. Broadly a third of INTERPOL’s funding comes from its statutory contribution programme with the rest coming from other funding mechanism via partnerships and in-kind contributions. So the payment of $1m or so from Saudi Arabia isn’t an outlier. The authors of this blog have extensively written on some of INTERPOL’s more eye-opening funding arrangements in the past. In 2011, INTERPOL and the footballing organisation FIFA announced a $20m partnership. However, that funding programme was ultimately shelved after FIFA corruption allegations in 2015.

The INTERPOL Foundation for a Safer World, a channel for Emirati funding, seems to have run its course. It is worth making clear that INTERPOL accepts donations from all manner of reputable sources. Yet, donations from the UAE and Saudi, particularly in light of their human rights records, may be troubling to some and have the potential to negatively impact on INTERPOL’s credibility.

Whilst INTERPOL might take a different view, the last few years have posed a number of reputational questions for INTERPOL. Following increasingly vocal criticisms of abuse of the Red Notice system, the election of Emirati Major General Al-Raisi as the President of INTERPOL, the public perception of INTERPOL and its effectiveness as an international policing organisation is less favourable than it once was.

The recent Saudi donation is likely to raise eyebrows in some quarters with concerns about potential Saudi influence in the organisation. International politics will always dictate INTERPOL has dealings with undemocratic and unsavoury regimes, but INTERPOL should perhaps be wary of accepting donations from regimes such as Saudi Arabia. INTERPOL’s integrity and impartiality are vital for global trust. Accepting donations from repressive regimes such as Saudi Arabia risks further compromising its avowed character for political neutrality and autonomy. For the sake of international justice, INTERPOL must ensure that its funding sources do not undermine its core principles or public perception.

Footnotes: [1] [2] [3]


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