Thursday

23rd May 2019

Russia used Interpol 'loophole' against EU activist

  • Any one of Interpol's 192 member states can file a diffusion with no oversight (Photo: interpol.int)

Russia has used Interpol for a fifth time to attack one of its European enemies - British human rights activist Bill Browder.

It called for his arrest and extradition via a "diffusion" that it filed in the international police agency on 17 October, Browder told EUobserver.

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  • Browder: "Every time the Russians issue an Interpol notice, it can disrupt my travel" (Photo: davos.ch)

It had previously called for his arrest on four other occasions via Interpol alerts called "Red Notices".

Interpol's internal oversight body rejected those on grounds they were politically motivated, but Interpol member states can file diffusions without being subjected to the same kind of checks.

The diffusions, which are automatically circulated to all 192 members, often stay in national police databases even if Interpol later deletes them from its central system.

"The diffusion notice is a loophole that allows them [Russian officials] to bypass Interpol scrutiny. This is a loophole which is clearly being abused and needs to be closed," Browder told EUobserver on Sunday (22 October).

"It's clear that countries like Russia are serial abusers of Interpol and shouldn't be treated the same as legitimate states," he added.

"Their interaction with Interpol needs to be strictly supervised by non-Russians to ensure compliance with Interpol rules," he said.

Magnitsky affair

Browder used to manage a hedge fund in Russia.

He became an activist after his accountant, Sergei Magnitsky, uncovered a €195-million scam by Russian tax officials and was subsequently jailed and killed.

Browder's campaign has seen the US, Estonia, and Canada pass "Magnitsky Acts," that enabled them to seize Russian human rights abusers' assets.

It has also seen the US, Switzerland, and France, among others, freeze Russian funds in anti-money laundering cases.

The affair goes to the top of US and Russian politics.

Russia has lobbied US president Donald Trump to get the Magnitsky Act repealed and some of the stolen tax money has been traced to the inner circle of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

The Kremlin has also hit back by claiming that Magnitsky stole the money and that Browder killed him to discredit Russia's image.

Browder said the Interpol diffusion could have triggered his arrest because it was "indistinguishable from legitimate requests" to rank-and-file border police in EU states.

He said the Department of US Homeland Security, for one, had cancelled his "global entry" pass on the basis of Russia's diffusion.

"Every time the Russians issue an Interpol notice, it can disrupt my travel until it's resolved," he said.

Money trail

He said the Russian harassment would not deter his campaign.

"Now that Canada has a Magnitsky Act, we're turning all our energies towards Europe. On the money trail, there are a number of new countries that will be announcing criminal investigations soon," he said.

He noted that Estonia, which currently holds the EU presidency, had not blacklisted any Russians under its Magnitsky Act despite having passed the bill almost one year ago.

"We will be advocating to change that," Browder said.

Estonia's deputy minister for EU affairs, Matti Maasikas, recently said that an EU-Interpol committee planned to discuss political abuse of the police agency at a meeting on 20 November.

Russia aside, the EU concern comes after Turkey filed Interpol notices against dissident artists and journalists living in EU states.

Belarus, Egypt, Kazakhstan, and Iran have also used Interpol the same way.

Fair Trials, a UK-based NGO, has said the police agency needed EU help due to the "challenge" of having to handle over 11,000 new Red Notice and 20,000 diffusions each year.

EU help

"Rather than seeing this as political interference, the EU's offer of assistance to Interpol should be seen as an attempt to make it a more effective international cooperation mechanism," the NGO's Bruno Min said, referring to the EU-Interpol committee.

Yuriy Nemets, a Washington-based lawyer who has represented clients named in Interpol Red Notices and diffusions, added: "Interpol is in need of further reforms".

"The continuing abuse of its resources is the most obvious proof that additional steps are needed to better protect the rights of individuals. European Union leaders would be right to demand them," he said.

Interpol declined to respond to EUobserver's questions.

Opinion

Interpol needs EU help to stop abuse

The international police agency needs powerful actors to support its work and its reforms, and the EU can and should provide a positive influence.

MEPs target exports of cyber surveillance tech

MEPs have introduced a human rights clause into the export of cyber surveillance technology as part of EU-wide reforms to prevent abuse by autocratic regimes. The Strasbourg plenary will vote on the bill on Wednesday.

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