On 7 April 2021, former UK Director of Public Prosecutions Sir David Calvert-Smith, in conjunction with International Human Rights Advisors, published Undue Influence: The UAE and INTERPOL, a report examining the relationship between INTERPOL and the United Arab Emirates. The report comes in response to reports that Major-General Naser Ahmed Al-Rasi of the UAE is a leading candidate in the upcoming election of the new President of INTERPOL.
INTERPOL’s President is elected by the General Assembly every four years. The General Assembly was due to meet in December 2020 to elect the next President but this meeting was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is expected that it will meet to hold the election as soon as conditions allow.
Though a part-time role, the President exerts significant influence and authority over the organisation’s operations. In recent years, the election process has come under criticism for a lack of transparency. No list of potential candidates is published in advance of the General Assembly’s vote. The volume of criticism increased in 2018, when INTERPOL’s first Chinese President, Meng Hongwei was arrested on suspicion of bribery and, in 2020, he was convicted and sentenced to 13.5 years’ imprisonment. Although no confirmation from INTERPOL on the candidates for this year’s election has been forthcoming, the report concludes that “there is little doubt that Major-General Al-Rasi is campaigning to become the next President and is widely viewed as being one of the front runners for the job.”
The possibility of a UAE Presidency gives rise to considerable concerns detailed in the report. In particular, the report found strong evidence that the UAE has misused the Red Notice system for political or other improper purposes. INTERPOL’s constitution expressly prohibits the undertaking of “any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character” but the integrity of INTERPOL’s processes for assessing the validity of Red Notices and identifying those issued for political or other improper purposes has been repeatedly called into question. The report cites the case of UK citizen Robert Urwin, who was arrested and detained in Ukraine on a Red Notice issued by the UAE over claims he wrote a bounced cheque 13 years previously. Further, the report points to evidence of deficiencies in the UAE’s commitment to the rule of law and ongoing human rights violations, in the form of torture, repression and rendition. The report details numerous case studies involving alleged abuses by the UAE, including the kidnapping Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum’s daughters Princess Latifa and Princess Shamsa in 2018 and 2000, respectively, and the allegations of torture while in UAE detention made by UK citizens Matthew Hedges and Ali Issa Ahmad.
The report highlights the role played by the UAE in INTERPOL’s funding structure through which it concludes that there is “coherent evidence that the UAE is seeking to influence INTERPOL”. In 2017, the UAE pledged an unprecedented €50m to the INTERPOL Foundation for a Safer World. The Foundation’s stated aim is to “engage government and companies to support INTERPOL’s work in building a safer world” and, since its inception in 2013, has become one of the largest external contributors to the INTERPOL budget. The size of the UAE’s contribution to the Foundation dwarfs its statutory contribution of €232,064. The report states that “it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the Interpol Foundation for a Safer World’s sole purpose is to be a channel by which to funnel cash from the UAE government into INTERPOL.”
In light of recent difficulties and the growing unease with INTERPOL’s lack of transparency, the report concludes that the organisation’s leadership is now more important than ever. An Emirati President would serve to validate the UAE’s poor record on human rights and criminal justice and this should be avoided. The report calls for the next President to come from a country with an established criminal justice system with a longstanding respect for human rights.