Member Country Activity

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.

One of my favorite adages is one that defense attorneys use in closing arguments when the government’s case contains some evidence of guilt, and some evidence of illegal police conduct:

If a waiter in a restaurant brings you soup with a cockroach in it, you don’t eat around the cockroach- you send the whole bowl back to the kitchen because all of the soup is tainted.

I am reminded of this story when I think about China’s Skynet investigation, the subject of a report here.

China has escalated extradition efforts in furtherance of its anti-corruption endeavor, named Skynet, and is seeking the assistance of other countries and INTERPOL, through the use of Red Notices, to find and bring home government officials who left the country and allegedly committed financial crimes.

Of course, often times when we see a massive anti-corruption drive, we also see an accompanying slew of human rights violations.  It appears from the article cited above that China’s Skynet is no exception. From the article, some detail is provided about the tactics China uses to encourage people to return to China to face their charges:

Over 40 percent of the 738 fugitives who returned to China in 2015 were “persuaded” to come back rather than forcibly repatriated, according to the CCDI. Fugitives’ family members sometimes played a role in these “persuasion efforts”, Li Gongjing, a Shanghai police officer, said in an interview with Xinmin Weekly magazine.
“It’s very effective. A suspect is like a kite. Although he is in a foreign country, his line is in China and we can find him through his relatives,” Li said.

“Finding” a suspect is different from “persuading” her to return. In almost every case I have seen where an improperly Red Notice is requested against a subject who has family members in the requesting country, government officials’ “persuasion” efforts have not included polite letters or requests. Rather, they have included the use of physical force and intimidation, seizure of legally owned assets, threats to have family members fired from their jobs, revocation of professional licenses and permits, and the like.  And this is all before the subject is returned to the requesting country- it’s not a stretch to imagine that such a country will commit further human rights and legal violations if she did return.

China has a long-standing history of violating human rights in the name of maintaining law and order.  For this reason, some countries, including the United States, have not agreed to an extradition treaty with China.  Recent evidence  illustrates that China continues its pattern of human rights violations: it has ignored the international amnesty status of individuals in order to re-patriate them, and has also engaged in disappearing individuals who have spoken against the government.

So, back to the soup.  Before INTERPOL can legitimately become involved with China’s anti-corruption prosecutions, China should be required to show substantive and documented reform in the area of human rights and due process rights.  Until then, the whole bowl of Skynet soup is tainted and should be returned to the kitchen.

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.

 

The Russian Federation is one of INTERPOL’s 190 member countries, which means that it has the privilege of using INTERPOL’s databases to help it track down wanted suspects and convicts for prosecution and sentencing.  Along with that privilege comes the obligation to follow INTERPOL’s rules, not the least of which are the requirements that every member country abide by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and uphold their own due process laws.  Additionally, member countries must not use INTERPOL’s channels to pursue politically motivated  or corruptly filed criminal charges.  When countries violate their obligation to uphold these tenets, INTERPOL’s rules specifically provide that those countries can be sanctioned in a variety of ways.

While INTERPOL has refused to issue certain Red Notice requests as made by the Russian government, anecdotal evidence shows that its quasi-appellate body, the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files (CCF), is still accepting representations by the Russian government that it is in compliance with its above-stated obligations.  A recent decision by the CCF contained the statement that Russian authorities had provided “satisfactory  elements regarding compliance with … the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Honestly, this kind of statement is stunning, given the international recognition and condemnation of the ongoing and endemic violations of human rights in Russia. In addition to the increasing drum beat of criticism of Russia’s human rights record, now another NGO has issued a statement, yet again affirming the truly horrific human rights violations still occurring in Russia.

The Open Dialog Foundation released a statement on May 9 regarding the involvement of Russian officials in the ‘Magnitsky list’ who are also involved in other politically motivated criminal proceedings in Russia. Open Dialog advocacy officer Thomasz Klosowicz presented information on other politically motivated criminal prosecutions and connected these cases to officials who were also connected to the Sergei Magnitsky case. The Red Notice Law Journal has previously addressed the Magnitsky case here and here.

In its statement, Open Dialog addressed the cases of Nadiya Savchenko, a former Ukrainian pilot and politician convicted for the murder of Russian journalists; the protestors of Bolotnaya Square and Manezhnaya Square, prosecuted for being members of opposition movements and organizations; the leaders of Yukos, accused of fraud and tax evasion; and Mukhtar Ablyazov, a opposition politician and businessman accused of embezzling funds. The purpose of the statement is to demonstrate how corruption and oppression in Russia has led to the abuse and exploitation of both its citizens and foreign nationals, and to serve as a call to action to raise awareness and prevent the unjust treatment and prosecution of these individuals. The Open Dialog Foundation says that it aims to identify that corruption in Russia is systemic and in direct violation of human rights laws.

As Russia’s human rights abuses continue to grow, the question must be asked, at what point does INTERPOL apply the sanctions available to it since its rules were changed in 2012, and hold Russia consistently accountable for its abuse of INTERPOL’s systems?

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

*(RNLJ thanks journalism student Elayza Gonzalez for her contribution to this post.)

 

My life today is different.” These are the words of one of our clients, Mauricio Ochoa Urioste, whose life changed from one day to the next because he is no longer listed as a wanted person on INTERPOL’s Red Notice list.

Earlier this year, INTERPOL announced its new policy on refugees, as discussed here. Mr. Urioste is one of the earliest beneficiaries of this policy, which has become effective rather quickly.**

Mr. Urioste is a politically active attorney from Bolivia who became the subject of a Red Notice when certain officials within the Bolivian government targeted him for prosecution of ordinary law crimes after he refused to participate in the execution of contractual agreements that he found to be illegal and he publicly criticized President Evo Morales.

Mr. Urioste had been wanted for criminal prosecution by Bolivian officials since 2010.  Realizing that he would not receive a fair trial in Bolivia, he made his way to Uruguay.  He was granted refugee status in 2011, but remained listed on INTERPOL’s wanted list. Of course, his wanted status meant that he risked detention if he traveled, even though he was classified as a political refugee.

With the implementation of INTERPOL’s new refugee policy, Mr. Urioste had a newly recognized avenue by which to seek the removal of his Red Notice.  While he also had the option of seeking removal on other grounds, the refugee policy provided a “bright line” test that the CCF could apply to his case for a faster analysis and decision.

The CCF’s decision in Mr. Urioste’s case also included more clear, instructive information that some decision letters in the past.  The CCF explained clearly that:

  • The data regarding Mr. Urioste were deleted from INTERPOL’s files;
  • All National Central Bureaus of INTERPOL’s member countries were notified that the information was destroyed; and all international police cooperation via INTERPOL’s channels in this case would not be in conformity with INTERPOL’s Constitution and Rules;
  • All National Central Bureaus were advised to update their national databases regarding Mr. Urioste’s information.

Congratulations to Mr. Urioste, and also to the CCF on its efficient imposition of a common-sense approach to the treatment of Red Notice subjects who are refugees.

** INTERPOL’s refugee policy was announced in May. We submitted his request for relief in late September, and we received the final decision in mid-November.  This is an extremely swift response time for an INTERPOL case, and response times do appear to be decreasing in many cases.  More on that topic in the next post.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

I’m having the very pleasant experience of feeling a bit of fall weather this weekend, not because Miami has become unseasonably cool, but because I am in Washington, D.C. to attend an event hosted by Fair Trials, International.

Fair Trials has organized “Demonizing Dissidents” to highlight the abuse of INTERPOL by dictatorships that persecute journalists, peaceful political dissidents, and refugees.  The London-based organization has been consistent and relentless in its quest for INTERPOL reform, particularly with respect to politically based prosecutions and violations of individual human rights.

Given the United States’ status as one of the primary funders of INTERPOL, it is appropriate that efforts at reform are undertaken here, as well.  While some U.S. officials have made sporadic, individualized attempts to correct abuses of INTERPOL, there has yet to be a concerted, official effort at truly ensuring the protection of individual due process and human rights.  The U.S. has both a political and moral obligation to take concrete steps to accomplish these goals, and INTERPOL appears to be poised to continue its efforts to achieve transparency, accountability within its National Central Bureaus, and the enforcement of applicable law in every Red Notice case.

The event will provide an opportunity to witness not only the very real cost to individuals who have suffered from the abuse of INTERPOL’s tools, but also to understand the cost to INTERPOL’s credibility and to the United States’ credibility as a nation of law and order if real reform is not imminent.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

 

 

INTERPOL has removed the Red Notice in the name of Ex-Ukrainian president Victor Yanukovych from its website.    The removal of a name from INTERPOL’s online wanted pages is not indicative of a final decision, but it is significant.

In 2014, likely due to the public nature of the case, INTERPOL took the unusual step of publicizing the fact that it was reviewing the Ukrainian Red Notice request for Mr. Yanukovych.

Earlier this year, INTERPOL reportedly agreed to issue the Red Notice, based on charges of embezzling public funds. Mr. Yanukovych challenged the notice, and today it was announced that his name no longer appears on the online wanted list.  Mr. Yanukovych’s attorneys reportedly took the position that the Red Notice should be removed because the underlying criminal charges were part of a pattern of political persecution against him.

Mr. Yanukovych is no doubt encouraged by the report that Interpol suspended the Red Notice; removed the extract of the Red Notice showing Yanukovych as a “wanted person” from the Interpol website; and blocked access of Interpol member countries to Interpol data concerning him.  While a suspension is not a permanent removal, it is a good sign that the matter is being seriously considered by the CCF, and that it may be permanently deleted from INTERPOL’s files.

As always, comments and thoughts are welcomed.

 

I recently received an inquiry from a reader who posed perhaps the most common question that arises from people who have submitted inquiries to INTERPOL’s CCF:

My mother-in-law has been a red notice subject, because her company in UAE could not repay a commercial loan and her partners escaped. So, she is the only one bank is going after to punish. She was and still is out of UAE, otherwise, she could be behind bar for god knows how long, for a loan.
Our local lawyer tried to communicate with the bank in UAE, but they were so sure about Interpol and rejected any communication. They keep asking for full amount + benefits and penalty costs at once. So, she made a request to CCF and we received a reply confirmation that the request is admissible. Now, 5 months have passed and we received nothing from CCF.

What do you think? Is there going to be a final decision and how long does it take to hear from CCF?

This reader has already submitted a request for some form of relief (it is not specified whether the request is an inquiry as to whether information exists in INTERPOL’s files, or for a removal of data from INTERPOL’s files) and has been advised that the form of the request is admissible.  The letter of admissibility is normally issued within 30 days of the CCF receiving the request.  The reader is now at the stage where s/he is awaiting a decision from INTERPOL.

While five months is a long time in the real world, it seems to be the blink of any eye in the realm of INTERPOL. I have seen inquiries take up to two years before a response is given, and others have been issued as quickly as two months from the date of receipt. Given the fact that, under the leadership of Chairperson Nina Vajić, the CCF has increased its yearly sessions from 3 to 4, we might hope for more consistently rapid response times going forward.  That change was only implemented this year, however, so it is still too early to know its full effect.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

 

 

INTERPOL is shocked, shocked, to find that FIFA might be connected to corrupt activity.

Last week, I addressed INTERPOL’s listing of several individuals who are wanted for prosecution by the United States for FIFA-related financial crimes.  That post is here.  In light of those listings, RNLJ requested INTERPOL’s verification of reports that INTERPOL was reviewing its existing financial arrangement with FIFA, wherein FIFA had pledged 20 million euros to the organization over a period of years to aid in the fight against match-fixing.

In fact, INTERPOL responded to our request with a confirmation that the organization had not only reviewed its agreement with FIFA, but had come to a decision to suspend the use of funds provided under the agreement until further notice.  INTERPOL also made a public statement regarding the decision:

INTERPOL is announcing the suspension of its agreement with FIFA following investigations into corruption against football’s governing body.

Under a May 2011 agreement, INTERPOL received a donation from FIFA worth EUR 20 million to create a 10-year Integrity in Sport programme.

The decision by INTERPOL Secretatry General Jürgen Stock will see the world police body freeze the use of financial contributions from FIFA.

INTERPOL’s Executive Committee endorsed the decision at its three-day (10 -12 June) meeting at the General Secretariat headquarters in Lyon, France.

The agreement with FIFA includes a clause which states that ‘the Funding Party declares notably that its activities are compatible with the principles, aims and activities of INTERPOL’.

“In light of the current context surrounding FIFA, while INTERPOL is still committed to developing our Integrity in Sport programme, I have decided to suspend the agreement,” said Secretary General Stock.

“All external partners, whether public or private, must share the fundamental values and principles of the Organization, as well as those of the wider law enforcement community,” added Mr Stock.

INTERPOL’s Integrity in Sport programme has helped international efforts across its 190 member countries to prevent the manipulation of sporting events and illegal gambling by criminal groups. Their ongoing criminal activities require a global response.

INTERPOL continues to closely monitor developments involving FIFA.

 Note that INTERPOL did not say that it is returning any of the funds, rather the agreement has been suspended.  With time, the organization may decide to keep any funds that it has received thus far from FIFA, or the Executive Committee may feel compelled to return the funds depending on what other information comes to light.

Interestingly enough, INTERPOL may find itself in the same position of many Red Notice subjects who have done business with alleged criminals:  it has received funds in furtherance of a particular initiative, and those funds are later found to have a possible connection with illegal activity.  A private individual may find himself subject to the “knew or should have known” standard when it comes to prosecution for financial crimes.  Based on the developments related to the U.S.-based prosecution and the information that is now publicly available, INTERPOL may find itself answering questions about whether it knew or should have known that the anti-corruption funds it received from FIFA may have been related to illegal activity.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that FIFA has been dealing with a scandal lately: the U.S. government has charged multiple individuals with ties to FIFA with expansive criminal violations, and INTERPOL has issued Red Notices for six of those people.

FIFA and INTERPOL have had extensive dealings with one another before, but in a very different manner. Interestingly enough, in 2011, FIFA made a 20 million euro donation to INTERPOL to help combat match-fixing.  We discussed the goals of the donation here.

Now, however, the international focus has shifted from those collaborative anti-corruption efforts to the allegations of corrupt activities by multiple FIFA officials and businessmen connected to FIFA.  In the indictment, the U.S. government alleges that the crimes were committed in the context of banking, commercial and investment activity that took place in both the U.S. and abroad.  Federal prosecutors charged the defendants with numerous counts of racketeering, wire fraud, money laundering, unlawful procurement of naturalization, and obstruction of justice.  Those charges provide the grounds for the Red Notices.

INTERPOL issued a statement regarding the Red Notices, and named each of the Red Notice subjects:

The Red Notices have been issued for;

Jack Warner, Trinidad & Tobago national, former FIFA vice president and executive committee member, CONCACAF president, CFU president and Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) special adviser.

Nicolás Leoz, Paraguayan national, former FIFA executive committee member and CONMEBOL president.

Alejandro Burzaco, Argentine national, controlling principal of Torneos y Competencias S.A., a sports marketing business based in Argentina, and its affiliates.

Hugo Jinkis and Mariano Jinkis, Argentine nationals, controlling principals of Full Play Group S.A., a sports marketing business based in Argentina, and its affiliates.

José Margulies (also known as José Lazaro), Brazilian national, controlling principal of Valente Corp. and Somerton Ltd., broadcasting businesses.

 The Red Notice subjects’ responses have varied from silence by most of the subjects to Jack Warner’s alleged threats to reveal presumably inculpatory information against others.

Should Mr. Warner and the other Red Notice subjects decide to fight their Red Notices, they face an uphill battle.  Any Red Notice challenge is difficult, and those originating from the United States, like other relatively non-corrupt countries, will likely provide fewer grounds for removal of the Red Notice than more corrupt countries that have records of rampant due process and human rights violations.

In terms of INTERPOL’s relationship with FIFA, it has been reported that INTERPOL is reviewing its financial arrangement with the organization; Red Notice Law Journal has requested verification of this report and will provide updates as they become available.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.