Over the past few days, four cases of Interpol abuse, or attempted abuse, have demonstrated several of the weaknesses, and strengths, of the Interpol system. Interpol is supposed to be limited to ordinary crime. Interpol abuse happens when it is used for political, racial, religious, or military purposes.
The first case comes courtesy of the Palestinian Authority, which – in an act of folly – Interpol’s member nations voted to admit in 2017. As I pointed out both before and after the vote, this was a foolish step to take precisely because the Palestinians made it completely clear that they sought admission to Interpol partly as a step in their political war against Israel, and partly in order to pursue various political opponents of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, opponents whom they style as thieves.
By late 2018, the Palestinians had already successfully abused Interpol,obtaining Red Notices on six individuals, one of whom was an associate of Mohammed Dahlan, one of Abbas’s opponents. Now, courtesy of the Middle East Monitor, comes a report that Interpol has (supposedly for the second time) turned down a request from the Authority to publish a Red Notice on Dahlan himself, on the grounds that it “was political or classified under the term of ‘political rivalry’ and as such it would not be eligible.”
If the Monitor has reported correctly, Interpol has made the right call. But the need to make the call just points out the problems inherent in admitting the Authority. First, analysts who pointed out that the Authority was virtually guaranteed to attempt to use its membership to harass Abbas’s opponents have been proven entirely correct. Second, while it is all well and good to turn down Red Notice requests on Dahlan, Interpol has not turned down Red Notice requests on his associates. Now, I carry no candles for these people; they are likely just as corrupt in their way as Abbas himself. But nonetheless, Interpol’s rules are the rules. Those requests should have been rejected as well.
The second troubling case comes from Australia, a nation that could not be further removed in its standards of governance from the Palestinian Authority. Nonetheless, the Sydney Morning Herald has revealed that the Australian government last year was close to deporting an Australian permanent resident to China on a false charge of kidnapping made by the Chinese authorities. The Chinese Red Notice was published in December 2014, at which point the victim had been living in Australia for 13 years. The Australian Federal Police raided the man’s house, made no criminal finding, and referred the case to another government department, Home Affairs.
That department took no action for three years and then, in December 2018, cancelled his visa and “put him in custody on character grounds.” Home Affairs then tried to deport him, arguing that he would receive a fair trial in China – even though Australia pulled back from signing an extradition treaty with China in 2017 precisely over concerns that China’s legal system was not fair. After the government dropped the deportation proceedings, the victim’s lawyer called the events “extraordinary” and added that “the incident demonstrated how the department is using the character test . . . as a ‘back door’ to go around regular processes under the extradition laws.”
The frightening fact is that these events are not unique to Australia: precisely the same events continue to happen in the United States.
The fundamental problem here appears to be the refusal of the authorities, in both Australia and the U.S., to understand or accept that Red Notices are not arrest warrants or the result of any investigative or judicial process at Interpol. A Red Notice is nothing more than a formal notification that an Interpol member nation has accused an individual of a crime, not that this accusation is justified or based on any evidence whatsoever.
The final two cases of abuse – this time, not abuse that was prevented – both come courtesy of China, the main abuser in the Australian case. China has formally announced that “one of China’s most wanted graft fugitives has returned to China and turned herself in six years after fleeing overseas.” She is “the 57th of China’s top 100 fugitives listed on the Interpol Red Notice who have returned to China.” Clearly, just as in the Palestinian Authority, there is corruption in China. But just as in the case of Mohammed Dahlan, accusations of corruption in China, even when factually correct, are also political. It is all too likely that Mo Peifen, “suspected of duty encroachment,” is a victim of the politicized abuse of Interpol.
Moreover, there is in this story just a hint of something truly sinister. If you were a fugitive from China, would you voluntarily return to “surrender for a lenient punishment”? What are the odds that 57 top fugitives would all agree to return voluntarily? Behind this anti-graft campaign and the supposedly voluntary return of so many fugitives is something that is convincing all of these fugitives to return to face Chinese justice. And we know what that something is: a campaign against exiles and political opponents abroad that ranges from threats to kidnapping. We can’t know precisely why Mo returned to China, but we can guess, and the strong likelihood is that, by publishing a Red Notice on her, Interpol has made her even more vulnerable to the threats that compelled her to return. And, in late-breaking news, China announced that the 58thfugitive had returned, again supposedly voluntarily.
Finally, there is the sad case of four Taiwanese fraud suspects who have been deported by the Czech Republic – but to China, not Taiwan. Reporting on the case is poor, but it seems that China published a Red Notice on the suspects. The Czech court was warned about China’s poor human rights record and the unfairness of its legal system, but the court “said it made its decision after being convinced by guarantees from Chinese authorities that the suspects will be fairly tried.” Officials from Taiwan’s representative office in the Czech Republic tried to urge the court to send the suspects back to Taiwan, but to no avail, while their lawyer promised to appeal “based on the argument that [the decision] violated” the Czech Republic’s constitution.
I have no idea if the suspects in this case are innocent or guilty. But they would likely not have been arrested if they had not been named in Red Notices, and the odds of four accused Taiwanese fraudsters receiving a fair trial in the People’s Republic of China is approximately zero. This is not quite Interpol abuse, as it is entirely possible that the alleged crime in this case is genuine and non-political. But if it is not Interpol abuse, it is nonetheless abuse facilitated by Interpol.
And that is a problem common to too many cases. From Australia to the U.S. to the Czech Republic, the issue is not that the authorities – unlike those in China and the Palestinian Authority – are abusing Interpol. Rather, they are using Interpol Red Notices for purposes and in ways that make them complicit in either the Interpol abuse committed by others, or in wider abuses. In either case, the lesson is clear: Western authorities, judges and governments alike, need to take a more serious and responsible attitude towards Red Notices in order to avoid this complicity.
This piece originally appeared in Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/tedbromund/2019/05/31/interpol-abuse-by-palestinian-authority-and-others-shows-strengths-and-weaknesses-of-the-system/#66a94a58215c