Collateral Effects of Red Notices

Let’s start with the specific good news: Fair Trials International obtained the removal of a Red Notice for current leader of the World Uyghur Congress, Dolkun Isa, who fled China in the 1990s and was pursued by Chinese authorities through INTERPOL for charges that were widely viewed as being politically motivated.

Mr. Isa, a dissident from China,  was wanted for alleged terrorist activities, as reported here.  The Chinese government naturally disagreed with the decision, expressing its dissatisfaction here.

It is always welcome news to find that a victim of a politically motivated prosecution has succeeded in removing a Red Notice – it means his life can normalize a bit. He can travel without the worry of an INTERPOL-related detention; his financial activity is simpler and less scrutinized; and he can search for work without having to explain that, even though he is wanted by INTERPOL, he is a law-abiding citizen.

The fact that Mr. Isa’s noticed originated from China, and that INTERPOL removed it, is also good news for those who have wondered about the effect of INTERPOL’s new president on the organization’s decision-making process. INTERPOL’ current president is China’s Vice Minister of Public Security Meng Hongwei. He entered his position amid public concern about his commitment to preserving INTERPOL’s commitment to human rights. The concerns were not baseless, given China’s human rights abuse record. However, as reported here, while some observers believed that his position was more ceremonial and less influential over Red Notice issuance, others thought that Mr. Hongwei’s presidency was cause for alarm, given China’s human rights history.

The decision in Mr. Isa’s case demonstrates that the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files has both the willingness and the autonomy to issue decisions contrary to the desire of the Chinese government, irrespective of the organization’s leadership.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

Why would a Red Notice subject want a request for removal of that notice to remain confidential? If you were a wanted person who was innocent, wouldn’t you want to shout it from the rooftops, for everyone to hear? The answers to these questions are more nuanced than one might initially think.

By the time most Red Notice subjects seek assistance with the removal of a Red Notice, they have already endured multiple, ongoing hardships. They have often faced false or inflated criminal charges in jurisdictions where a fair trial is unattainable. Sometimes they have had civil disputes that became criminal because their opponent bribed local officials. Other times, they were charged criminally because they opposed the ruling political party in some way.

Very frequently, they say at some point during our initial meeting, “I know this sounds crazy, but…”

And the fact of the matter is, it doesn’t sound crazy. There is almost a recipe for every type of false or inflated charge that is prosecuted. That recipe almost always includes more than one person in power with an agenda that includes, or requires, the maintenance of criminal charges against individuals who would serve as obstacles to their goals. It may be as simple as a local police officer and prosecutor who filed a criminal complaint after being bribed. It may be as complicated as an entire national administration dedicated to keeping an oligarchy in power.

Regardless of the corruption model, a Red Notice subject often fears retribution when seeking relief from an improperly issued Red Notice. Even though the subject himself may have escaped an unsafe venue, he often has the worry of the family and business associates he left behind. It is not at all unusual for remaining family and associates to be harassed and intimidated by authorities, both officially and unofficially.

For these reasons, Red Notice subjects are often extremely concerned about confidentiality in their requests for relief to the CCF.

Submitting a request for relief to CCF requires a showing of violations of rule and law, which may require a showing of information that could endanger people back home. While the CCF’s rules do provide for confidentiality, there are situations where the CCF may wish to verify information with the country that requested the notice in the first place. Accordingly, applicants often have to decide whether to send the CCF information that would assist their cases, or to keep that information private in the interest of family safety.

In the next post, we’ll look at the issue of absolute confidentiality in the context of a request for relief to the CCF.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

Under the leadership of its current Chairman,  Vitalie Pirlog, the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files (“CCF”) has proven in this year’s decisions that it is serious about holding National Central Bureaus to their obligations under INTERPOL’s rules.

In his speech at this year’s General Assembly, Chairman Pirlog reminded INTERPOL’s membership that the CCF often seeks information from their National Central Bureaus (“NCBs”). These responses are essential to the CCF’s ability to make decisions about requests for removal of Red Notices from the requesting country. Mr. Pirlog reminded member countries that timely responses were particularly important, given the CCF’s new statute that generally requires a response to be issued within four to nine months.

INTERPOL has always provided the required assistance to its members’ NCBs, but historically, the NCBs have not always been strictly observant of their duties to provided requested information, or to provide it timely. The CCF has apparently had enough of that, and is holding the members countries’ NCB’s feet to the fire.

Based on the CCF’s decision letters that have been received by this practitioner, it is clear that:

  • The CCF is generally adhering to the new time limitations for issuing decisions, with some decisions being issued even earlier than required;
  • The CCF is demanding cooperation from National Central Bureaus, and when they do not respond in a timely fashion, the CCF is proceeding to make a decision based on the information it has, rather than waiting or continuing the matter until the NCB provides a full response; and
  •  The decisions being issued by the CCF are generally accompanied by a reasoned explanation, detailing the Commission’s steps and considerations taken in reaching its decision.

These factors are critical to the CCF’s efforts at demonstrating transparency, and allow applicants to both appreciate the nature of the process, as well as to recognize that they were given a “fair shake” in INTERPOL’s processes. One would hope that the more lax NCBs recognize the shift in culture at the CCF, and become more compliant as a result. Whether they do or not, the CCF will benefit from the fact that it is protecting INTERPOL’s interests in transparency and the furtherance of human rights.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

Last month, a Swedish journalist of Turkish descent, Hamza Yalçin was finally released from detention in a Spanish jail awaiting an  extradition decision. Turkey has requested and received an INTERPOL Red Notice based upon an underlying charge of “terrorism” and insulting the Turkish president.

If he had been extradited, Mr. Yalçin would have faced over 22 years in prison for insulting the president of Turkey.  The journalist reportedly received asylum from Sweden many years ago based on his previous political activity in Turkey.   The facts that Mr.  Yalçin is a journalist and that he is an asylee from Turkey both render the Red Notice against him rather curious: INTERPOL has a policy in place that was enacted for the purpose of protecting asylees from further political persecution by the countries from which they fled, and notices against journalists are often requested based on their criticism of the requesting regime.

This is not the first time that Turkey has utilized its access to INTERPOL’s tools to aid in the prosecution of a journalist.  Earlier this year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel noted that Germany has had to modify its policies in dealing with Turkey, and that such abuses against journalists and critics cannot be tolerated.

Yalçin was released late last month, but not because the Red Notice was dropped: he reportedly was released because Spanish law did not allow for the extradition of  an asylee.

INTERPOL has an opportunity to highlight its commitment to human rights by subjecting Turkish Red Notice requests to additional scrutiny before issuing them, particularly where the subject is an author or journalist.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

We continue to receive reports, like this one, of individuals who are wanted in the United Arab Emirates or other areas in the Middle East, for bounced security checks. I addressed the basics of this issue in a previous post, here.  At the time, it appeared that efforts to bring this matter to the forefront, led by multiple attorneys such as Radha Stirling and those at Fair Trials International, would lead to a resolution of these types of notices. While we have all had success in handling the Red Notices stemming from bounced security checks, here we are several years later with this issue is still lingering, causing incredible hardships for the subjects of the Red Notices.

The use of security checks in the Middle East

In many countries in the Middle East, where established credit verification mechanisms are still in development or are not widely used in the same manner as other parts of the world, financial institutions require the individual seeking the mortgage loan to execute an undated security check in the full amount of the mortgage. It is understood by all parties that the borrower does not have the full amount of the check in the bank.  If the mortgage payment is missed, the financial institution will deposit the check, which will “bounce,” or be returned for insufficient funds, and the institution will then foreclose on the property.

However, it also eventually became the practice of many financial institutions in the Middle East to also refer the check to the local police for criminal prosecution, despite the lack of evidence of any fraudulent or criminal intent. The property is then reverted back to the financial institution’s possession. If the borrower is not in the country, a Red Notice is often requested to aid in criminal prosecution.

As a result of this practice, many foreign nationals who are relocated by their employers, or who are forced to leave the country when they lose their jobs, and thus their legal status, find themselves in the situation where they no longer have the income that allowed them to qualify for the mortgage loan, and can no longer legally live or work in the country, but are being pursued for criminal charges that they have no way of resolving.

Request to INTERPOL for a policy statement

Earlier this month, I made a request for a policy statement on this issue to INTERPOL. The request was acknowledged and we now await the statement. It is important that INTERPOL issue a public statement regarding its stance on this issue, lest private financial institutions continue utilizing even the threat of INTERPOL involvement in cases where such involvement is improper.

It is critical for both INTERPOL and its member countries that INTERPOL’s tools not be used for improperly based charges, and that INTERPOL be utilized as an effective law enforcment organization, rather than a debt collection agency for certain member countries.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

In this series, Red Notice Law Journal addresses the changes created by the newly enacted CCF statute. Many of the changes are reflective of those requested by INTERPOL practitioners and by human rights organizations in the last several years. For example, Fair Trials International provided input that was instrumental in advocating for INTERPOL reform, and many of its recommendations made their way into the new statute.

As an attorney representing clients who have been frustrated in the past by the perception of a lack of clarity and transparency in the CCF’s processes, I have also recommended changes to the CCF’s response format and the depth of information and transparency contained in those responses. The CCF’s new statutory obligation to publish its decisions, as discussed here, is one of the most welcome changes of all.

In addition to the CCF embracing its own new obligations under the statute, the CCF is also now more clear about one of the obligations of Red Notice subjects seeking relief from the CCF after previously being denied relief from the organization. Previously, the applicable rules only made reference to a general notion, addressed here, that successive requests for relief could be denied if they were deemed substantially similar to previous requests or if the CCF viewed the requests as being abusive of the CCF’s processes.

Now, however, the statute provides a clear statement of how successive requests will be reviewed, or not. Article 42 of the statute provides that

(1) Applications for the revision of decisions of
the Requests Chamber may be made only
when they are based on the discovery of facts
which could have led the Requests Chamber
to a different conclusion if that fact had been
known at the time at which the request was
being processed.
(2) Applications for revision must be made within
six months after the discovery of the fact.

The applicant therefore has clear guidance as to when a renewed request is admissible and when it is not. This specification obviously places a burden on the applicant, but every legal or quasi-legal body has procedural requirements, and the fact that individuals who apply to the CCF for relief now have more clear guidance renders the process more predictable, and therefore, more fair.

As always questions or comments are welcomed.

As the year begins, and changes appear to be coming to both INTERPOL and the CCF,* Red Notice Law Journal reviews some highlights from the CCF’s activity in 2016:

First case study: Vladimir and Alexandr Kholodnyak

In this case, our clients, Vladimir and Alexandr Kholodnyak,** succeeded in their efforts to remove the Russian- requested Red Notices in their names.  The CCF agreed to remove both of the brothers’ Red Notices, and followed its now-standard practice by specifiying in the decision letter the following information:

• The data registered in INTERPOL’s files was not compliant with INTERPOL’s rules. Consequently, the Commission recommended that INTERPOL delete the data concerned.

• INTERPOL’s General Secretariat has informed all INTERPOL National Central Bureaus that the data has been deleted from INTERPOL’s files.

• All NCBs have been instructed to update their national databases to reflect the removal of the Kholdonyaks’ data.

The CCF’s decision in the Kholodnyak’s case was additionally significant because the notices not only significantly affected their business interests, but they also posed a problem for their immigration cases in the United States.  With the removal of the notices, the brothers face one less impediment to achieving their immigration goals, and they are free to pursue their professional and personal lives. Additionally, their cases received some negative and seemingly biased media coverage, so the removal of the Red Notices brought a sense of vindication as well.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

* These changes will be addressed in the coming posts.

*Information published here with clients’ consent.

Yesterday, I was fortunate to attend the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission’s briefing on the issue of allegations of INTERPOL Red Notice abuse.  The panelists included:

Rebecca Shaeffer, Senior Legal and Policy Officer, Fair Trials
Leonard A. Homeniuk, former President and CEO, Centerra Gold Inc.
William Browder, author of Red Notice and head of the Global Justice Campaign for Sergei Magnitsky
Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, President, Lantos Foundation for Human Rights
Moderator: Liana W. Rosen, Specialist in International Crime and Narcotics, CRS

The event was hosted and attended by Representative James P. McGovern. Mr. Homeniuk and Mr. Browder described their respective experiences with INTERPOL, and the profound effect that an invalid Red Notice request can have on the lives of their subjects.  Mr. Homeniuk’s story is here, and Mr. Browder’s story is here. Their cases are unusual only in that they both had the resources to fight their cases, which they both recognize is extremely unusual for most Red Notice subjects.  They were both so impacted by their experiences that they have dedicated time and even more resources to advocate for INTERPOL reform.

It appears to be widely agreed that, if the United States is going to take a role in INTERPOL reform, the U.S., as one of the largest financial contributors to INTERPOL, must tie its funding of INTERPOL to specific reform actions. It also appears to be widely agreed that INTERPOL has got to stop treating all of its member countries as equals, because they are not.  Some of them follow the rule of law, but many others disregard the law completely in applying for Red Notices.  National Central Bureaus have to be accountable, not just in theory, but in reality.  The panelists referred to the fact that INTERPOL’s rules allow for National Central Bureaus to be sanctioned for rules violations, but whether such sanctions occur is unknown to the public. It was recognized that INTERPOL has taken some steps toward reform, but much more is needed before the organization can meet its stated goal of protecting human rights.

Congratulations to Representative McGovern for getting this conversation started. It will be interesting to see how he and other members of Congress move forward on this issue.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

A reader recently posed some questions about INTERPOL’s dissemination of information, and those questions are answered in today’s post.

Q: There has not been an annual report 2015 by Interpol so far – are there probably other sources that can tell numbers of red notices and diffusions issued in 2015 and numbers of valid notices/diffusions in circulation?

A:  The annual report for the previous year is normally published in conjunction with INTERPOL’s annual General Assembly, which is usually held in October or November.  The reports are published here.  Otherwise, the number of Red Notices or diffusions issued are not made public, because INTERPOL’s member countries do not always request that their notices be publicized.  In fact, a majority of them remain hidden from public view.

Q: Are ways to find out (by the numbers of notices/diffusions/arrested persons in annual reports) how many diffusions/red notices are deleted after Interpol indicated a political motive behind them?

A:  INTERPOL’s CCF has included this information in its annual reports (see below) in the past, and it also has recently begun providing more specific information in its responses to requests for Red Notice removal.  In the response letters, the individuals who applied for relief are now being informed more frequently of the reason for the removal of their notices.  However, the CCF’s recommendations (which are almost always adopted and implemented by the General Secretariat) are not made public, so this information is available largely on an anecdotal basis.

Q: Are there any hints of inner political problems in Interpol?

A:  INTERPOL is an international organization with over 190 member countries, each of which can claim varying levels of compliance with human rights standards, so some  political problems are inevitable.  The CCF, however, does a decent job of guarding itself from external influences, and its own annual reports often call the organization as a whole to task for the continual improvements that are needed to fulfill its obligation of remaining impartial in politically motivated cases, as well as other issues related to human rights protection. The annual reports are found here, and give insight to the issues that the CCF chooses to focus on from year to year.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

Venezuela’s president, Nicolas Maduro, has threatened to at least attempt to continue Venezuela’s abuse of INTERPOL’s Red Notice system.

The paper product supplier Kimberly-Clark stopped production in Venezuela several weeks ago, in the midst of Venezuela’s worsening economic crisis.  Venezuelans already wait for hours in lines on a daily basis in an effort to obtain basic supplies such as toilet paper, diapers, and personal products. The absence of Kimberly-Clark’s products will certainly exacerbate the shortage.  Just as numerous other companies have done recently, Kimberly-Clark  cited a shortage of currency and raw materials in addition to soaring inflation rates as contributing factors to its inability to continue doing business in Venezuela.

President Maduro quickly accused the company of violating the country’s constitution and laws, and announced his intention to seek the INTERPOL-assisted arrest of Kimberly-Clark representatives. His announcement serves to remind privately held companies that, in addition to evaluating basic economic factors when determining where to conduct business, they must also evaluate the stability of the controlling government as well as its improper use of the judicial system in order to achieve its goals.

If President Maduro makes good on his threat, we can expect to see Red Notices requested for a host of politically motivated, financial crimes; INTERPOL will be left to evaluate the validity of those requests; and the attorneys for the Kimberly-Clark representatives will have to seek the removal any of the Red Notices that are issued.

As always, questions and comments are welcomed.