Wednesday

21st Feb 2024

EU urged to take action on Interpol abuse

  • Katsnelson: 'I was released having to … explain to my then three-year-old son why his father had been missing for so long' (Photo: Jumilla)

MEPs have urged the European Commission and the EU foreign service to take action on Interpol abuse, after a damning report.

The international police body, based in Lyon, France, is "being misused by countries such as Russia, Belarus, Turkey and Iran to target political exiles, many of them refugees living in the European Union," the deputies said in a letter on Tuesday (26 November).

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The situation is "undermining the [EU's] concept of an area of freedom, security and justice" and "the effectiveness of the European Union's external action" in shielding foreign dissidents, they noted.

They added that "despite this, there is no effective remedy available to those affected."

The MEPs - six British, Dutch, Estonian, German and Portuguese deputies - spoke out after a hard-hitting study by the London-based NGO, Fair Trials International.

The report highlights multiple cases involving EU countries in recent years.

In one incident, a US-born businessman, Ilya Katsnelson, who sought refuge in Denmark after being targeted by the Russian mafia, was arrested by German police at gunpoint because Russia issued an Interpol alert.

“Having spent two months in a foreign maximum-security prison, I was released having to … explain to my then three-year-old son why his father had been missing for so long," he told the NGO.

Iran got Interpol to file notices on 12 dissidents living in Sweden and Germany.

Ali Caglayan, a Turkish dissident who got German asylum, was six years later arrested in Poland due to an old Turkish request on Interpol files.

"I know of about 250 Turkish and Kurdish activists living in Europe as refugees and many have Interpol problems," he noted.

"Even within the Schengen area, the space within the European Union in which border controls are abolished, an individual may hesitate to travel for fear that contact with authorities might lead to an arrest," the Fair Trials study said.

The MEPs have no legal power to make EU officials act.

But their wake-up call is just the latest in a series of complaints.

For his part, Jeh Jonson, the nominee for the new US chief of homeland security, told Congress in November that when he challenged Interpol on Katsnelson its "bureaucracy seemed impenetrable and uninterested."

The EU administration is equally unwilling to tackle the problem.

The EU foreign service told EUobserver that Interpol is "an essential tool for the fight against organised crime and terrorism" and that its work is "highly appreciated."

The spokesman of EU home affairs commissioner, Cecilia Malmstrom, declined to read the Fair Trials report, saying she has "no mandate" on Interpol.

His reaction comes despite intimate Interpol-EU co-operation.

Interpol has formal agreements with Malmstrom's police and judicial agencies, Europol and Eurojust, which, the MEPs say, puts them at risk of handling "information which has been obtained in breach of human rights" by some Interpol member states who torture prisoners.

Interpol's spokesman told EUobserver it "has partnered with the EU on a wide range of ... programmes," which he called "Interpol-EU projects."

He cited joint initiatives on police in West Africa, on child abuse, maritime crimes and arms trafficking - the so-called Wapis, ICSE, Crimlea and iArms projects - as examples.

Relinc premature?

Meanwhile, two Interpol staff are currently working with EU diplomats in Tripoli on the EU-funded "Relinc" scheme to "facilitate" Libyan officials' access to its databases.

The new Libyan authorities already have the right to file Interpol notices.

But an internal EU document - dated 18 April 2013 and seen by EUobserver - says that in the aftermath of the war there is an "effective lack of rule of law" in Libya and that its ministries of interior and justice suffer from "widespread corruption."

Fair Trials highlighted how corrupt officials also abuse Interpol's network.

In one case, in the United Arab Emirates, a jewel trader used government contacts to file an Interpol notice against a Lebanese supplier in order to avoid paying him a $150,000 business debt.

Interpol said in a press release it has "well-established systems in place to identify and address potentially politically motivated requests, and measures to protect the rights of individuals."

It cited its Commission for the Control of Interpol's Files (CCIF) as an internal oversight body.

The Fair Trials report indicates the CCIF is not fit for purpose, however.

Interpol spends just €120,000 a year on it out of its €70 million a year budget.

Its five staff meet three times a year for two days at a time. They look at between 60 and 80 people's appeals a day and can take as long as two years to make up their mind.

Interpol also noted its general secretariat stamps out political "red notices."

leaky i-link

But Interpol systems, such as its "i-link" database, installed in 2009, let countries file "diffusions" and what Fair Trials calls "draft red notices," which can also prompt arrests, but which bypass the secretariat.

There were 20,130 "diffusions" in 2011, almost three times the amount of "red notices."

The MEPs urged Malmstrom and EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton to create a "group of experts" to monitor Interpol and to stop it from criminalising people who have been granted asylum by EU countries.

Fair Trials chief Jago Russell echoed their appeal.

"Countries can use Interpol's systems to make the European Union unsafe for political dissidents who have sought refuge there," he told EUobserver.

'I thought I was safe in Europe'

Arrest of Turkish dissident has again highlighted the way rogue regimes use Interpol to hunt their enemies inside the EU.

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