A South Korean president will not prevent the abuse of INTERPOL: root and branch reform is needed

21 November 2018

A collective sigh of relief was heard in the UK this morning at the news that Alexander Prokopchuk has not been elected as the new head of INTERPOL. In the current climate, post-Skripal, it is no surprise that the prospect of a former insider in the Kremlin’s interior ministry as head of the international body would cause alarm. Such relief, however, may be premature. Prokopchuk  remains not only a vice-President of INTERPOL, while a former Russian state prosecutor (Petr Gorodov) sits on the important Commission for the Control of Files of INTERPOL (CCF) which decides on the admissibility of red notices (although he absents himself when Russian cases are being discussed). 

Setting aside any issues around any individual member of INTERPOL, the real concern should be the functioning of the organisation itself. As a result of a change in technology which allows red notices to be uploaded without any real scrutiny, the last ten years has seen a massive increase in the numbers of red notices issued. In 2017, 13,048 red notices were issued, bringing the total number of red notices to 52,103. Contrast this with 2007, when only 3,131 were issued. 

As many of the 192 member states of INTERPOL have discovered, red notices are a powerful tool when deployed against political opponents. A red notice can have a huge impact on a person’s life – affecting not only their ability to travel, but also their ability to work and to access bank accounts: red notices will show up on regulatory checks carried out by banks and employers. It takes a matter of minutes for a country to upload information to INTERPOL which results in the issue of a red notice, but will take months and often years (as well as considerable expenditure) to remove a red notice that has been issued in breach of INTERPOL’s rules.

What is needed is root and branch reform: the organisation needs greater resource to deal with challenges to red notices, and it needs to be able to take action against those countries that routinely abuse the red notice system: not just Russia, but also others, such as India and the Gulf states. Without the imposition of a tangible penalty for those states that abuse the system, Interpol will remain a tool at the disposal of despots.

Further information

For further information on the issues raised in this blog post, please contact a member of our criminal litigation team.

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