INTERPOL assists in locating and extraditing people wanted for prosecution or to serve sentences in criminal cases. Matters of a civil nature are not matters within the scope of INTERPOL’s organization. However, sometimes cultural differences – and the accompanying legislative differences- create stark distinctions between the types of matters that countries consider to be criminal.

For example, a recent article by the Korean Broadcasting System (“KBS”) highlights the way that South Korea treats defamation as compared to other INTERPOL member countries. In most countries, defamation and libel are civil matters for which someone can be sued to recover financial damages. In South Korea, however, defamation can form the basis of a criminal charge. The article reports:

South Korean police have requested Interpol to nullify the passport of a Korean-Canadian, who has been sued for defamation and fraud in South Korea in connection with a sexual abuse scandal surrounding a late actress.

The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency revealed on Monday that it also asked for a Red Notice from Interpol to arrest actress and model Yoon Ji-oh.

The 32-year-old has been staying in Canada since April after several lawsuits were filed against her in South Korean courts. She is accused of damaging the legacy of her former colleague Jang Ja-yeon by posing as a key witness to the alleged abuse that Jang faced and profiting from the attention that she earned.

Police involvement in defamation cases in South Korea are not uncommon; this past summer an actress from the country filed a police report alleging “defamation and insult” following a public divorce and media coverage.

This difference in the treatment of defamation will likely become problematic for South Korea. When other member countries do not regard an act as criminal, their laws will not allow them to participate in a person’s extradition for that act. INTERPOL’s rules prevent it from being involved in cases where an act is not ordinarily considered a crime; those rules specifically state that crimes arising from cultural or religious norms of a given member country will not be the subject of INTERPOL involvement. Red Notice requests in these kinds of cases are likely to be denied once INTERPOL becomes aware of the nature of the case.

It will be interesting to see how INTERPOL responds to South Korea’s request.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.