Emma Lewell-Buck MP was the first to raise at Parliament level, serious issues of malpractice within the international law enforcement agency Interpol.
Legal organisation Detained in Dubai, a leading voice against Interpol Abuse over the past decade, has been working with Lewell-Buck on the Urwin case. “We have seen hundreds of innocent people either arrested, harassed, extorted or threatened with Interpol notices,” said founder Radha Stirling, “Interpol has been criticised for accepting notices from countries who have a political motivation, such as Russia, Turkey, China and Egypt but amazingly, the private sector and even top international banks, have systematically abused a system that leaves itself open to exploitation”.
Gulf nations have not only reported people to Interpol for political reasons, but they have allowed frivolous private matters to be misrepresented to Interpol as criminal matters, often with the intention of harassing the victim, preventing travel, damaging their reputation, extorting funds or having them imprisoned. This common practice has been regularly used by banks, particularly those in the UAE and Qatar who have been criticised for using the agency as an instrument for “debt collection”.
Stirling, herself an Expert Witness in Interpol and Extradition matters has dealt with numerous cases of European nationals who have been arrested in Europe over Interpol Notices issued on the basis of a small credit card debt, bounced cheque or missed car payments. She has recently established a new organisation called IPEX, dedicated to reforming Interpol and extradition protocols internationally.
Interpol Red Notices are designed to instruct a country to arrest a person who is wanted for extradition, but Gulf States know they will fail at requests for extradition because the matters are not criminal; and because their own human rights records often preclude deportation from Western countries. However, the individuals remain listed on Interpol’s database until they themselves appeal for removal; causing significant grief to victims. Interpol has few checks and balances and very little transparency to end this systemic abuse.
Commenting on the matter, Stirling said “Interpol has no disciplinary practices in place to ensure that member countries, like the UAE, stop misreporting civil matters to the organisation. The agency has faced conflicts of interests in the past, and allegations of corruption for receiving funds from the private sector. They have recently accepted large amounts from gulf nations who seem to feel the rules don’t apply to them, and without proper accountability, it seems they are right.
“Interpol has no watchdog and have not been made so far, legally accountable for the damage they have caused to victims of abuse. In Robert Urwin’s case, he was detained for 45 days in deplorable conditions in Ukraine over a bounced HSBC cheque in the UAE that he did not even have the opportunity to write. While we made submissions for the removal of the notice, Interpol’s consideration timelines are nine months at best.
“I am grateful to see such a dedicated MP as Ms Lewell-Buck raise this very serious subject at Parliament level. The UK is a member of Interpol and needs to assert the rights of citizens against abuse that leads to arbitrary and lengthy detentions. Mr Urwin’s extradition was denied by Ukraine authorities and he should have been allowed to leave the country immediately. In fact, HSBC and Interpol should be held to account for the nightmare that he has endured. He is only stuck in the Ukraine today because HSBC has not withdrawn the Red Notice they demanded be issued against him.
“This year alone, I have seen a number of British nationals detained in European countries as a result of bank initiated Interpol Red Notices. The UK government needs to demand that Interpol provide safeguards to individuals and this is precisely why I have formed IPEX Reform, an organisation dedicated to advocating for reforms to Interpol and Extradition proceedings.”
HSBC, after their CEO publicly stated “jailing debtors works”, have seemingly failed to change their debt enforcement policies, leaving themselves liable to legal actions from customers they have wrongfully placed on Interpol’s database. The bank has so far declined to comment on Urwin’s arbitrary detention.
The issue of Interpol Abuse is also a major issue in the US legislature. Stirling consulted in DC on the drafting of a new bill that seeks to curb politically motivated misuse of the Red Notice system. “This is a subject about which we are likely to see increasing concern among governments around the world,” Stirling said, “With so many citizens of Western nations victimised by Interpol’s lack of transparency, their failure to vet extradition requests, and their apparent unwillingness to abide by their own internal protocols; it is inevitable that external pressure will need to be applied to affect change in the system.”