Interpol, the world’s largest police organisation best known for issuing red notices, has found itself at the centre of media attention. The previous president, Meng Hongwei, resigned after being detained by the Chinese authorities on allegations of corruption. The two candidates to fill the position of president were Kim Jong Yang of South Korea and Alexander Prokopchuk, a former Russian Interior Ministry official. Prokopchuk was considered the front runner, yet delegates instead voted for acting head and former police chief Kim Jong Yang to be elected president. Kim Jong Yang will serve as president for the remainder of the current mandate, i.e. until 2020.
Red notices are Interpol’s most valuable tool in facilitating the cooperation of police forces around the world. A red notice is intended to elicit the help of other countries in tracking down a wanted person with a view to locate and provisionally arrest that individual pending extradition to the country in which they are accused of committing crimes. Such a notice is instantly distributed to national police forces across the globe, instantly placing them on alert.
The impact of a red notice can be significant as it means there is a constant risk of arrest if the individual is in one of the Interpol member countries. In particular, red notices may flag up to boarder authorities when travelling to different countries which can result in arrest at the airport, detention and possibly extradition proceedings. Some red notices are made public and can be seen on Interpol’s web page so they also pose a significant reputational risk.
There are currently 52,000 such notices in circulation, and it is interesting to note that the number of Interpol alerts have markedly increased in recent years: in 2003 Interpol published 1,378 red notices whereas in 2017 13,048 were published. Interpol is an apolitical organisation and its Constitution strictly forbids it from undertaking any intervention or activity of a political, military religious or racial character. However, this exponential increase in the number of red notices and the type of offences featured in some red notices has led to comments that the red notice system is being abused. Instead of being used to locate or at least restrict the movement of those wanted for extradition and prosecution in the requesting state, there are concerns it is at times being used to target political dissenters.
Despite their limitations, Interpol’s red notices can be a highly valuable tool capable of bringing international criminals to justice as expeditiously as possible. For example, Interpol red notices were swiftly issued for the two Russian intelligence officers accused of attempting to poison the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in March. However there are examples of requesting states abusing this system and using it for political ends. If this is found to be the case then Interpol, because of its apolitical nature, will either not publish them in the first place or can remove them.
This is a specialist area of law and if you are subject to an Interpol red notice, or believe that you might be, it is important that you seek advice.