25th Oct 2016

Estonia says Interpol notice interfered in election

Estonia has complained to Interpol about what it sees as Russia's use of the police agency to interfere in a vote in Tallinn.

The complaint comes after Interpol published a "red notice" on Eerik Kross, an Estonian politician, describing him as a wanted man on Russian charges of "organisation of piracy."

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  • Interpol's motto is: 'Connecting Police for a Safer World' (Photo: interpol.org)

The notice came out on the eve of mayoral elections in Tallinn last weekend, where Kross, long-disliked by Russia, was up against Edgar Savisaar, an Estonian-born Russian darling, who made his career by cheerleading the interests of ethnic Russians moved to Estonia in Soviet times.

It was immediately taken up by pro-Savisaar media and used for Kross-bashing.

In the end, Savisaar won and nobody is contesting the result.

But for Estonia's interior minister, Ken-Marti Vaher, Interpol's role in the process was inexcusable.

"We are protesting this so that Interpol changes a subcommittee's decision and discontinues internationally mediating the request [on Kross] from the Russian federation, which is clearly politically motivated," he told Estonian media.

Asked by EUobserver if Estonia will seek EU help to change Interpol's mind if it ignores Vaher, an interior ministry spokesman said: "It is difficult to speculate on our further steps at this time."

Interpol itself declined to comment.

But even if EU countries or institutions sympathise with Estonia, there is little they can do.

Interpol, based in Lyon, France, is a unique intergovernmental body with no political or judicial oversight.

Its EU equivalent, Europol, based in The Hague, is concerned that Interpol is open to political abuse. But it does not want to speak out for fear of harming police co-operation.

The mounting allegations against Interpol are damaging its reputation despite the official silence, however.

Kross himself - an enemy of the Kremlin for helping Estonia to join Nato and for helping Georgia in its 2008 war with Russia - told this website: "How is it possible that a respected international police organisation is giving a tool to Russia and other non-democratic states for violating human rights and for meddling in other countries internal affairs?"

James Kirchick, an analyst at the Washington-based think tank, the Foreign Policy Initiative, said: "Such low tactics are characteristic of Russian interference in its 'sphere of privileged interests,' that is, the independent countries of the former Soviet space which the Kremlin considers to be its imperial playground."

20 minutes per case

For his part, Ted Bromund, a researcher at an another US-based NGO, The Heritage Foundation, has calculated that, based on 2011 figures, if Interpol works eight hours a day for 365 days a year, it has just 20 minutes to consider the merits of each notice filed by its member states.

He said Interpol director Ron Noble "is determined not to recognise that some Interpol member nations systemically seek to abuse it, and that more regular public monitoring of Interpol is necessary if it is to fulfill its functions without becoming complicit in these abuses."

Russia's request on Kross claims he masterminded the hijacking of a Russian ship, the Arctic Sea, in Swedish waters in 2009.

But for Estonia's interior ministry, the evidence against Kross, which was examined and rejected by a joint investigation team from several EU states, "does not provide an adequate basis for suspecting that Kross was involved."

Interpol is facing accusations that it also helped Belarus to intimidate dissidents who sought shelter in EU states.

The Polish NGO, Open Dialog Foundation, has documented Kazakhstan's use of the police body to hunt its political opponents in Europe.

Meanwhile, Interpol secrecy gives its member states another way of using it to settle scores.

Belarus, in its ongoing battle with Russia over the ownership of a multi-billion-euro fertiliser firm, recently said Interpol had issued notices on Russian oligarchs linked to the dispute.

Interpol quickly issued a press release to say it is not true.

Little people

But it is less keen to react when it comes to what Kross calls "little people."

Earlier this week, the Russian interior ministry said Interpol issued a notice for member states to seize Peter Silaev, a Russian journalist and environmental campaigner who fled to Finland.

There is no red notice on Silaev on Interpol's website.

But when EUobserver asked Interpol if the Russian statement is true, an Interpol spokeswoman said only that it may or may not be the case, because some red notices are not published "for operational reasons."

The European Parliament, the Finnish government and the UN have all said that Silaev is a genuine political refugee.

But a previous Russian Interpol request saw him snatched by Spanish police and pinned face-down in a car for seven hours in an incident in 2012, before a Spanish court let him go.

"If that claimed fact [the new Russian statement] is approved and Interpol has really concluded that I'm a dangerous criminal … I find my life and my future really endangered by that regretful and obvious mistake," he told this website.

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