Despite the warnings of human rights organizations, the election of Emirati Major General Ahmed Nasser Al Raisi as head of the Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) was not surprising, but rather a new confirmation of a fact echoed by many and announced by US Senator Roger Wicker, which is that (Interpol) has become a "tool in the hands of tyrants and fraudsters who seek to punish political opponents in exile.”
But how did the internationally respected organization transform from a law enforcement agency that shares information with police around the world to apprehend criminals and ensure that they do not go unpunished, to a private security company hired by tyrants to harass and prosecute political opponents and opponents of the tobacco and drug companies? How did a country with a poor human rights records have such an influence within an important institution such as Interpol?
In this report, we provide a detailed explanation of the organization, its structure and its working mechanisms, and how the UAE was able to influence its mechanisms and repeatedly abuse the “red notice” system to pursue political opponents, relying on public sources and reliable press reports available.
• What is INTERPOL?
The word (Interpol) is an abbreviation of (International Police), and the full name of the organization is the International Criminal Police, and it is the largest international police institution established in 1923 consisting of the police forces of 194 countries, and its headquarters is in Lyon, France.
The organization does not itself investigate or arrest criminal suspects, but rather shares information and assists police agencies in nearly every country to find and detain suspects. It also plays an important role in combating international crimes, such as counterfeiting, smuggling, and the illegal purchase and sale of weapons.
• The structure of INTERPOL
Under the INTERPOL Statute, the General Assembly elects its President from among 9 delegates, who, along with the President and 3 Vice-Presidents, make up the Organization's Executive Committee.
1: The General Assembly
It is the supreme governing body of Interpol, made up of representatives from each of the member countries. It meets once a year, and the session lasts about four days. It takes important decisions related to public policy, and elects members of the Executive Committee.
2: The Executive Committee
The number of its members is 13 and they define the policies of the organization, and are in charge of supervising the implementation of the decisions of the General Assembly, and monitoring the performance of the Secretary-General. and it consists of a president who is chosen for 4 years, 3 of his deputies are elected for 3 years, and 9 delegates, although the role of the president here is honorary, and the caretaker is the Secretary-General, the President supervises the Secretary-General and chairs the Executive Committee.
3: The General Secretariat
The General Secretariat is the part which supervises Interpol's daily operations and consists of 7 regional offices in several countries, and two liaison offices with the United Nations and the European Union.
The Secretary-General position is currently held by the German Jürgen Stock, who was appointed to a second 5-year term in 2019.
• Interpol notices
Interpol notices, are an international notice distributed by the organization to communicate information about crimes, criminals and threats by police in member states (or an authorized international entity) to their counterparts around the world.
There are 8 types of notices, 7 of them are coded according to their function: red, blue, green, yellow, black, orange and purple, the most famous of which is red, which means a request for the arrest of a person wanted by a judicial authority or an international court with a view to his extradition, which is the notice closest to the international arrest warrant instrument.
• Election of the president and lack of transparency
The process of electing the president at Interpol is characterized by the absence of oversight and transparency, as the organization does not provide any public information about the candidates, and their history is not inspected by member states.
Interpol has rejected repeated requests from human rights organizations to demystify the presidential election process. In October 2018, the Fair Trial Organization called on Interpol to ensure “...the provision of timely and public information on individuals who have submitted their names to run for president for inspection”, but the organization refused to respond.
In 2020, Interpol rejected the Fair Trials organization's request again, and the organization said that the Interpol had informed it that the details of the candidates could not be confirmed because nominations could only be formally submitted once the General Assembly began and candidates could be proposed at any time before the elections.
Perhaps the most important criticism that can be directed at the electoral process is related to the lack of information about the steps that precede the actual elections itself, as the mechanism for selecting candidates and the way their names reach the ballot paper is still unclear.
Indeed, this mechanism, combined with the absence of information, precludes any meaningful scrutiny of the candidates -and the countries they represent- by the public, or even by delegates from other member states. Any elections in which candidates appear suddenly and mysteriously on a ballot paper before the election moment cannot be described as democratic.
Although some would respond to this by saying that delegates will do their best to examine and discuss candidates in the General Assembly halls in the limited time available to them, they should know that the presidency of Interpol is not a matter for the delegates themselves. The identity of the president is a matter of international concern and all candidates should be required to announce their candidacy publicly enough in advance of the General Assembly so that states can conduct appropriate open scrutiny.
Indeed, not only does the current system bear the hallmarks of a dubious and undemocratic process, but recent history has also shown that it is simply not fit for purpose, and the nature and extent of recent controversies surrounding presidential candidates should serve as a warning to Interpol itself that its electoral system is a failure.
• The problem of Red Notices
Red notices are seen as closer to arrest warrants, but in fact they are not a request from Interpol, but rather a notification of the existence of an arrest warrant issued by a member state and circulated to the international community. It is a general request, and does not in itself carry any legal obligation to implement to act upon it.
The United States, for example, does not consider red notices a formal request by law enforcement, however, the result is fairly consistent, often resulting in arrest, and at the very least, travel becomes extremely difficult.
Issuance of a Red Notice makes the country's National Central Bureau is required to issue it through Interpol to track and arrest individuals. Then Interpol conducts checks on this request, Interpol is basically an organization for the exchange of police information, and depends on the credibility of the state and the intelligence services.
As a result, over the past few years, a growing trend has been observed towards the misuse of Red Notices by governments for political purposes, as well as by competing companies for commercial purposes.
Interpol has often been criticized for its well-intentioned system, which lacks proper scrutiny, perhaps the central problem here is that the red notice is easy to issue but difficult to remove, making it easy for those with political power to use it to intimidate opponents and prevent them from traveling.
Unfortunately, this tool has recently turned from a means of arresting criminals to arresting opponents, as many authoritarian governments of countries such as China and the UAE misused these notices to target their opponents.
This has angered many international institutions, such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe-Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) which criticized numerous resolutions in Oslo (2010), Monaco (2012), Istanbul (2013), and Baku (2014), and urged the misuse of international investigation mechanisms, and supported Interpol’s reform in order to avoid politically motivated prosecution.
In 2019, the Parliamentary Assembly issued (Resolution No. 2315/2019) in which it said that Interpol procedures have often been misused for political or corrupt reasons by some countries.
Numerous press reports have pointed to strong evidence that authoritarian states issue Interpol’s Red Notices in order to arrest and extradite political opponents and businessmen whose interests do not align with the regime.
• UAE abuses red notices
The UAE is notorious for its abuse of Interpol. A report by a former British director of public prosecutions, Sir David Calvert-Smith, that was published in March concluded that the UAE hijacked the system of red notices -- international wanted notices -- to put pressure on opponents.
Smith's report found strong evidence that the UAE has misused the red notice system in minor crimes, in order to achieve political gains against those it sees as threatening the regime, noting that Interpol recently deleted many of the requests submitted by Abu Dhabi because of its misuse of the system.
According to a report by Foreign Policy magazine titled: “The Scourge of the Red Notice: How some countries use Interpol to go after dissidents and debtors" these notices are intended for persons suspected of serious crimes, but the UAE uses it to collect its debts in trade disputes, returned checks, or even credit card debts, and it's not criminal penalties in some countries.
The report said there is no public information about the number of red notices issued by the UAE on these relatively simple matters, but a UK-based group that helps people in this predicament says it is now seeing at least two cases per month.
The magazine highlighted the case of Pancho Campo, the international tennis player, who said it took 9 years to remove the red notice issued against him by the UAE due to a civil dispute with a former business partner, which destroyed his career.
Michelle Estlund, a lawyer whose practice specializes in Interpol defense work, told the magazine how Abu Dhabi uses a special international agency to collect debts or retaliate against former partners who enter into commercial disputes with officials there, noting that the UAE has a poor human rights record, which means that extradition to it exposes individuals to the risk of torture and ill-treatment, and political changes It means that a person can become an "enemy of the state" overnight.
Smith's report referred to the story of Osama Al Omari, the former CEO and general manager of the Ras Al Khaimah Free Trade Zone Authority, who was drawn into a battle within the ruling family over his ties to one of its members.
And 3 years after he was fired from his job in the UAE, the Red Notice was used to try to control assets abroad, and in 2016 he was stopped at the US border and told he had serious problems with Abu Dhabi, which turned out to be due to his old association with a family member who had lost their authority.
• Interpol’s Corruption and the exploitation of the UAE
In recent years, the talk about Interpol's corruption has increased, especially after the Chinese authorities arrested the former head of the organization, Meng Hongwei, and convicted him on corruption charges and sentenced him to 13 years in prison.
Corruption concerns have extended beyond the political arena, where the organization has held controversial economic partnerships, as in 2011 it signed a multi-million partnership with FIFA to create a “10-year program for integrity in sports”, and Interpol was later forced to suspend this partnership after the discovery of massive corruption within FIFA, which has become an institution referred to in the world of corruption.
It was embarrassing for an international police organization to receive a large sum of money to investigate corruption from an organization that turned out to be institutionally corrupt.
Which puts one question on Interpol's table: How did one of the world's most famous international police institutions manage to partner with such an organization without knowing what was going on?
Interpol's relationships with tobacco companies also raise big questions about the international organization's global role. In a detailed analysis of Politico, journalist Jake Wallis Simons wrote in 2015:
“Either way, aside from the FIFA deal, the hand-in-glove relationship with the private sector offers other examples of potential conflict of interest. In 2012, Philip Morris International (PMI), the American tobacco giant, donated €15 million, to be paid over a three-year period, to bankroll Interpol’s operations to disrupt tobacco counterfeiting. Later that year, Interpol was embarrassingly barred from participating in the World Health Organization (WHO) Convention on Tobacco Control because of its financial association with a tobacco company.
In 2013, Interpol and 29 of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, including Eli Lilly and Sanofi, signed a €4.5 million, three-year deal to create Interpol’s “Pharmaceutical Crime Program” to combat production of fake medication. From Interpol’s point of view, the crime harms public health; from the industry’s point of view, it harms its bottom line. As Die Zeit pointed out at the time, “it remains unclear which of these two objectives is in the foreground.” It also was unclear whether Interpol would put much energy into investigating drug fraud affecting a company that was not a donor.
The German publication revealed that in 2011, Ronald Noble, then Secretary General of Interpol, attended a meeting of the Dolder Group, a “highly secretive think-tank of the pharmaceutical industry.” At the meeting, the paper reported, Noble said, “I have to admit that Interpol is often portrayed as a villain, who defends the interests of the industry”.
The private funding of police services is not completely without international precedent. Although a spokesperson for Germany’s Ministry of the Interior confirmed that law enforcement does not accept private money because it would “damage impartiality”, the UK police force sometimes does so, at the discretion of regional Police and Crime Commissioners and Chief Constables. For example, the “Dedicated Check and Plastic Crime Unit”, which sits within the City of London police and targets payment fraud, is sponsored by the credit card and retail banking sector.”
It seems that the UAE authorities have fully realized that money is the best way to gain influence on Interpol, so It pledged to donate it in 2017, in the amount of 50 million dollars, which is a very large amount, especially if we know that the annual budget of Interpol does not exceed 150 million.
Smith said in his report that this donation aims to improperly influence Interpol through funding, noting that the UAE, with this donation, seeks to consolidate its influence by securing the election of Major General Al Raisi as president of the organization.
Some human rights organizations, during their repeated messages warning of the election of Al-Raisi, have hinted at the need to scrutinize the generous Emirati donation, which appears to be a bribe in exchange for the election of its general.
There is no doubt that the international reputation and credibility of Interpol has deteriorated recently, and it has become seen as a pawn in the hands of authoritarian governments to pursue opponents, as the mechanism of Interpol has been used to prosecute journalists, human rights defenders and opponents repeatedly.
The election of Al-Raisi, perpetuated this negative image of the international organization, and shed light on another image of the financial corruption of the institution, as it is widely seen that the election of the Emirati official came in exchange for the generous donation of the UAE.
The presidency of Interpol is a position full of symbolism, and if this position is awarded to the UAE representative, it will be seen as a prize for the repressive regime in Abu Dhabi and will help it gain legitimacy and burnish its tarnished reputation.
Interpol is not a transparent organization and has recently faced persistent criticism of the political use of Red Notices against political opponents, human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers.
In addition to criticism on other issues, such as the actions of its leadership to manage its commercial affairs.
The election of a high-ranking official from a human rights violating government as President of Interpol sends a message to the world that Interpol has little or no respect for human rights.