What’s Going on at Interpol?

by Andrew Stuttaford

Despite some dubious alumni, Interpol is, in theory, a good thing, but in practice it appears to be being abused by at least one of its members (clue: a very large country, name beginning with an “r” and run by a former secret policeman), and, oh yes, by the Soviet nostalgics over in Minsk too. Writing in European Voice, Edward Lucas notes:

[Western countries] should help Bill Browder, a London-based financier who is Magnitsky’s former client and champion [Sergei Magnitsky was an accountant who died in Moscow in circumstances that were murky and all too clear]. He risks arrest when he leaves the UK because Russia is shamelessly abusing the Interpol system, claiming that Browder is a wanted fraudster. EU countries should all say that they regard this as political persecution and have no intention of acting on it. That would give Browder safe passage.

Then there’s this, from Russian-untouchables.com:

When Petr Silaev, a Russian journalist, got political asylum in Finland in April 2012 after escaping a crackdown in his home country, he felt safe and began a new life. But in August the same year, he found himself handcuffed and shoved face-down on the floor of a police car on a seven-hour trip from Granada, Spain, where he went on holiday, to a detention centre in Madrid, where he risked extradition.

“The Spanish police treated me in a mind-breaking way . . . They kept saying: ‘You’ll be deported.’ They kept abusing me, saying: ‘You’re a Russian terrorist’,” he told EUobserver. When Ales Mihalevic, an opposition candidate in Belarus’ presidential elections in 2010, fled his home country, he found himself, in July 2011, detained by Polish airport police and risking a similar fate.The link in both cases was Interpol, the international police body based in Lyon, France.Belarus and Russia had filed requests for their capture using Interpol systems and two of Interpol’s 190 fellow member states, Spain and Poland, took action. …Belarus and Russia did not get their way. Spanish police let Silaev go after 10 days. Polish police let Mihalevic go after 12-or-so hours.

Also caught up in this is an Estonian politician, Eerik-Niiles Kross, a leading figure in the country’s right-of-center IRL, and a candidate for the Tallinn mayoralty in today’s municipal elections.

Russian-untouchables.com explains:

In January last year, Eerik Kross, an Estonian politician and a former director of Estonia’s intelligence service, also became a wanted man after Interpol issued a “red notice” on Moscow’s say-so. Kross is a known adversary of the Kremlin. He was a leading proponent of Estonia’s Nato membership. In the 2008 Georgia-Russia war, he helped Georgia to fight off Russian cyber attacks. But Russia used the long arm of Interpol to reach out for him on different grounds. It filed the notice saying Kross masterminded the hijack of a Russian ship, the Arctic Sea, off the coast of Sweden in 2009, a claim which Kross calls “idiotic.” It did so on grounds that a witness in an Arctic Sea trial had mentioned his name.

Shamefully, Estonia’s Russia-friendly Center party appears to have been trying to make hay with this.

Estonian Public Broadcasting reports:

With 24 hours to go before local elections, a notice depicting IRL politician Eerik-Niiles Kross and saying that he was wanted by Russia for “prosecution/to serve a sentence” appeared on Interpol’s site late yesterday.  Contrary to initial reports, it is the first time the notice has showed up, although the Russian warrant it is based on goes back to 2012 and has been widely considered not to be credible.The Center Party seized on the story, with political secretary Mailis Reps saying that Russia’s interest in questioning Kross over an incident where a ship was said to have been seized left a stigma on Kross and anyone who associated with him. And party chairman Edgar Savisaar, whose Tallinn mayor post is being challenged by Kross,  told Postimees it could even precipitate a government crisis. “How can Prime Minister Andrus Ansip continue with a government whose interior and defense ministers belong to a party that has put an international fugitive on its coat of arms in Tallinn?” Savisaar asked.

But the context – Kross has made sizable gains in the polls in recent weeks following a high-profile campaign, and the incumbent Center Party, still poised to win a majority of seats on Tallinn’s city council, has close ties to the Russian Federation’s ruling party – is leading many to dismiss the reappearance of the ad as a provocation….

Back to Russian-untouchables:

For his part, Kross told this website he is worried about the rights of average people. “What about the ‘little man,’ who is accused in some show trial? There is a high risk he gets stopped at the border just not knowing that Interpol has been notified,” he said. Browder and Mihalevic added that they know of “many” politically motivated Interpol alerts filed by authoritarian regimes… Mihalevic noted that if he had been stopped by an Interpol member with a weaker legal system than Poland, such as Turkey or Ukraine, he might now be in a Belarusian jail. Meanwhile, even if Interpol deletes a notice or a diffusion, it does not mean you can travel with peace of mind. Some national police forces keep alerts in their local systems after Interpol tells them the alert is bogus.

“I know from my private contacts that I am still on the databases of several countries . . . So, as a result, I don’t travel outside of Schengen [the EU's passport-free zone],” Mihalevic said. Andrei Abozau, a Belarusian opposition activist living in exile in Estonia, told EUobserver of two other cases of Belarusian dissidents, Dmitry Pimenov and Igor Koktysh, who were recently arrested in EU countries on Interpol alerts. “Every time, when I get on a plane, I’m afraid not to return to my family and to be extradited to Belarus,” Abozau said.

Kross noted that ever since Russia filed its notice, he cannot get a visa to the US to visit his wife. “It’s bizarre . . . Once you are on a no-fly list, it’s very hard to get off,” he said. He does not know if his US ban is linked to Interpol, but he noted that if it is, “it means Russia can dictate who travels to America.”

Secretary Kerry, call your office.

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