by WorldTribune Staff, December 20, 2018
In a classic case of the tail wagging the dog, authoritarian regimes are said to be making increasing use of the International Criminal Police Organization or Interpol to punish political enemies who are not necessarily criminals.
Interpol currently has more than 57,000 “red notices” in effect. The notices are alerts which identify a person wanted for arrest by another country. They are circulated to all 192 of Interpol’s member nations.
Critics say authoritarian countries such as China and Russia are increasingly using the notices to target political enemies and dissidents.
A North Carolina resident who says his life was “turned upside down” after learning he was the subject of an Interpol red notice, said he hopes a recent shakeup at the top of the organization’s leadership will result in reforms to the red notice system.
In a Dec. 19 op-ed for The Washington Post, Oussama El Omari said the United Arab Emirates issued a red notice for his arrest.
In the aftermath of that notice, Omari said he is “afraid to travel internationally, which is essential to my work developing free-trade zones. I may never see my brother again. I am alive, for which I am grateful, but I fear for the safety and security of friends and colleagues I left behind in the UAE.”
Omari is the former chief executive and director general of the Ras Al Khaimah Free Trade Zone Authority in the UAE.
As part of his position at the authority, Omari said he was required to report to a member of the RAK royal family, Sheik Faisal bin Saqr al-Qasimi, a son of the emirate’s longtime ruler, Sheik Saqr bin Mohammed al-Qasimi.
“Upon the elderly sheik’s death in 2010, a scorched-earth succession battle among his sons ensued,” Omari wrote. “The most prominent conflict involved Sheik Saud bin Saqr al-Qasimi and Sheik Khalid bin Saqr al-Qasimi, but Faisal was also among those vying for power. When Saud prevailed, Faisal was in trouble. As it turned out, so were the senior executives who worked under him in the Free Trade Zone Authority. We were fired in the 2012-2013 period.”
Omari said that his efforts to seek compensation he said he was owed were not only denied but may have sparked a backlash that led to the UAE issuing the Interpol red notice.
“In July 2016, I was returning to the United States from a trip abroad and was stopped by U.S. Customs and Border Protection at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport,” Omari wrote. “A customs officer, looking at his computer screen, said, ‘You must have serious problems with the UAE.’ He said I should avoid traveling there because I was likely to be jailed. The United States doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the UAE, he noted, ‘but you be careful.’ ”
Omari continued: “I was then led to a small room. Customs officers took my passport, made phone calls, consulted computers and searched my luggage. I was soon released, but I was shaken. The customs officer hadn’t mentioned an Interpol red notice, but that seemed the only explanation. I contacted Interpol and requested my file. I was right: The UAE had requested a red notice because, unbeknown to me, I had been convicted in absentia of ’embezzlement and abuse of position.’ I subsequently learned from my brother, who lives in RAK, that he had been refused an exit visa to leave the country.”
Omari noted that “Once you’re flagged with a red notice, getting it removed is extremely difficult. Interpol refused my request, saying it is not the organization’s role to assess countries’ law enforcement or judicial systems. I was also advised by Interpol that the UAE had said I was free to appeal the conviction for my supposed crimes. Based on what I knew from the experience of others who had run afoul of the Emirates, I regarded the offer as an attempt to lure me back to the UAE, where I might be imprisoned.”
“In addition to trying, but failing, to persuade Interpol to remove my red notice, I brought a federal suit against Saud and others in RAK for breach of contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress and other harms,” Omari wrote. “The suit has been dismissed twice on grounds of sovereign immunity; I’m now petitioning the Supreme Court to challenge that defense.”
Last month, Interpol elected Kim Jong-Yang of South Korea as its new president during a general assembly in Dubai. Kim, previously a vice president of Interpol, competed closely with Russian candidate Alexander Prokopchuk in the election.
“I hope Kim will work to reform the use of red notices as a political weapon,” Omari wrote.
Kim replaces China’s Meng Hongwei as Interpol chief.
WorldTribune.com reported on Oct. 11 that the Chinese government on Oct. 7 confirmed that Meng had been arrested in China on charges of bribery and corruption. Authorities in Beijing also said that Meng, a Chinese national, had resigned from his position at Interpol.
According to a report by Geostrategy-Direct.com, Meng had left Interpol headquarters in Lyon in late September on a business trip to China. Upon his arrival at the Beijing Capital International Airport on Sept. 29, he was immediately taken away by Chinese security guards and had not been heard from since.
In April of this year, Meng was stripped of his membership from the Communist Party Committee of the Ministry of Public Security, “a clear sign that he would be the next fall guy” in supreme leader Xi Jinping’s “ruthless purge of the senior officials that have claimed the careers and lives of hundreds of his former and current cohorts in the security and police communities,” the Geostrategy-Direct report said.
Bloomberg columnist Eli Lake noted that, while nearly 80 percent of Interpol’s annual operating budget of about $80 million comes from Western democracies, “authoritarian states have begun to corrupt the organization. Many countries still rely on Interpol to share information on real criminals. But a handful of bad actors have abused the system to target their political foes.”