Red for Danger Robert Amsterdam on the nefarious use of Interpol Red Notices effectively arrest warrants in order to taint often innocent people for economic or political gain
Red for Danger
Robert Amsterdam on the nefarious use of Interpol Red Notices — effectively arrest warrants — in order to taint often innocent people for economic or political gain
ANYONE WHO HAS spent some time working in emerging markets learns quickly that the police are not always known as the good guys. Whether you find yourself in Moscow, Caracas or Kampala, a visit from the police can be bad news for a business. Instead of protecting citizens and deterring crime, sometimes law enforcement agencies in the developing world play a role in repressing the political opposition or in extra-judicial extortion, and are even used as pressure in private commercial disputes.
Of course, this comes as no surprise to most veteran foreign investors, and precautions are usually taken to limit exposure to these abuses of power. The bigger problems begin when this instrumentalisation of criminal law is exported internationally via Interpol through the issuance of a Red Notice.
In recent years my colleagues and I have noticed a growing trend of Red Notices being issued against businessmen and women not based on any legitimate criminal investigation, but motivated by political or economic disputes. The Red Notice, which can be triggered at the request of any Interpol member country, can have powerful consequences for the individual involved, including restriction of movement, financial implications and impugning their reputation with the taint of criminal guilt even in the absence of investigation, charges or trials.
When an ugly commercial dispute breaks out between private investors and government-connected figures in a country like Uzbekistan, Kenya or Indonesia, the Red Notice becomes a powerful tool for the other party to discredit and weaken their opponent ahead of civil court proceedings or international arbitration. It is, in essence, a practice whereby civil or political cases are criminalised by one party to gain an unfair advantage.
According to a 2010 study by the International Consortium for Investigative Journalists, the fourth and fifth highest numbers of requests for Red Notices came from Russia and Belarus, both of which lack any semblance of rule of law. Among the top 30 countries requesting public Red Notices were Azerbaijan, the United Arab Emirates, China, Rwanda, Vietnam, Tajikistan, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Iraq and Iran, all countries with either corruption issues or human rights abuses.
Technically, Interpol is prohibited from getting involved in political or civil cases. According to Article 3 of the Interpol Constitution, ‘In order to ensure the widest possible cooperation between the police authorities of its member states, it is strictly forbidden for the organisation to undertake any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character.’
The experts at the organisation go to great lengths to ensure Article 3 is observed, but given the sheer volume of requests and complex nature of many member countries, it is impossible to stop every case of abuse in the system.
That’s part of the reason why Interpol implemented new rules in July that will hold the national central bureaux responsible for the data processed in Red Notice applications. If a violation of Article 3 were to occur, NCBs may face penalties including greater oversight and potentially even suspension from accessing Interpol’s tools.
Even with these new rules, there are grave concerns among many investors in emerging markets. In the past year alone, I am familiar with cases of bogus Red Notices being brought before Interpol in a landlord-tenant dispute in Central Asia, a political persecution in Zambia and the extortion of a business competitor in Russia. More and more, we are seeing a direct connection between incidences of Interpol abuse and cases proceeding in civil and commercial courts.
ONCE THE ORGANISATION is dragged into a dispute, it requires a painstakingly careful and strategic process to correct it. As an international organisation of police cooperation, Interpol is under no national legislation, answers to no outside appeal bodies, has no obligation to share information with the public and generally operates in an opaque fashion.
People doing business on the frontiers of rule of law need to understand that Interpol is not just chasing down terrorists and international fugitives, but instead is being used in many ways. As a by-product of our security mentality and the war on terrorism, there has been a massive growth in the invasiveness of government, leading to abuses of this important international mechanism.
Interpol should be applauded for addressing these issues head-on, but the jury is still out as to whether placing greater responsibilities on the NCBs will result in a reduction of abuse.It is important that we understand that this process signals a growing willingness on behalf of states to criminalise civil and political disputes, and so long as we as citizens are willing to countenance the actions of such states, the victims will continue piling up.
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