Expats shocked Qatar & UAE banks are getting away with using INTERPOL as debt collector
INTERPOL’s global reputation been damaged over the last decade due to their negligence in allowing member countries to misuse the international law enforcement organisation. More specifically, serious questions have been raised regarding transparency, as Interpol’s top funders have proven to also be the leading abusers of its system. Interpol, as an international organisation, has largely escaped accountability through its complex setup and a level of inaccessibility that amounts to immunity from scrutiny or redress. Interpol’s primary role is to communicate information between countries, often with a view to requesting a country to process an arrest and extradition of a wanted individual, through their domestic legal system. No comprehensive mechanism exists, however, to hold Interpol accountable to the public; and there is no “presumption of innocence” in the reporting process, nor even a substantial burden of proof required before an individual finds himself or herself listed on the Interpol database. The public, any member of whom may wind up subjected to a Red or Blue Notice by Interpol, has no means of oversight and no channel for compensation if they have been wrongfully listed. Interpol is only accountable to its member countries who provide hundreds of millions of dollars in donations every year. Interpol has previously had to refund donations to FIFA and has accepted donations from the private sector, including from corporate giant Phillip Morris, causing widespread controversy respecting their independence. It is more controversial however, to accept donations from countries who have the access and ability to report wanted persons. Interpol has vested interests in maintaining relations with all member states and has been reluctant to discipline countries who are known to abuse the system. Why would Interpol seek to risk an annual £50 million donation by requesting a country like the UAE to stop them from wrongfully reporting credit card debt as fraud? It is only the individuals who fall victim to this abuse after all and they are unlikely to be able to make Interpol compensate them. Interpol Abuse has been investigated and reported by Al Jazeera, Qatar’s own independent news broadcaster, in“ People and Power ”, where a number of cases were discussed, while Fair Trials International & Detained in Dubai have been campaigning for an end to Interpol Abuse for a number of years. Radha Stirling , founder of Detained in Dubai and Detained in Doha , has been assisting clients remove their name from Interpol’s databases for over ten years. She also acts as an expert witness in extradition cases worldwide. Ms Stirling said “There are three most common types of Interpol abuse. The first is where a civil matter, business dispute, credit card debt or bounced cheque, is reported to Interpol under the inaccurate category of “fraud”. Interpol accepts the report without question. “The second involves reporting journalists, bloggers or those with a public opinion that does not support a government in power, as “terrorists” or similar. In most instances, the individual concerned is outside of the reporting country, exercising their free speech. Interpol accepts the report without question. “The third involves completely fabricated allegations that are reported to Interpol by people who make use of a more corrupt or backward government’s legal system to make false reports for the purpose of extortion or even for spite, knowing that ultimately, the report will be removed but that it will cause the reported party to be temporarily detained. This is more common in less developed countries. Interpol accepts the report without question. “Once Interpol accepts and circulates a notice, it will likely lead to the arrest and detention of the subject. If the notice is a result of one of the “abuse categories” noted above, that person will need to apply for the cancellation of the notice. Interpol allows themselves anywhere up to nine months, but can extend the timeframe if they choose to. Remaining on Interpol’s database as a victim of abuse for such lengthy periods of time often leads to the loss of employment or business transactions, the inability to obtain residency visas or continue with normal plans, damage to one’s reputation, high legal costs, emotional trauma, PTSD and an unquantifiable personal toll.” Interpol is coming under increased public demand to penalise member countries who repetitively abuse Interpol’s system. Interpol needs to have a processing department that reviews preliminary supporting evidence before listing a report and penalise member countries who are repeat offenders. Member countries should also be financially penalised if upon review, Interpol agrees to remove a notice and those who are wrongfully reported, should be compensated.
It is clear that Interpol’s timeframes for dealing with removal requests are irresponsible and abusive in themselves. The removal of wrongful Interpol reports should be their absolute priority. No victim of abuse should remain on the database for any more time than absolutely necessary. If Interpol does not clean up their system and ensure innocent people are not persecuted, they will be made accountable through the courts and will be forced to change. Qatar and UAE banks still criminalise debt. Expatriates who are made redundant or have an unexpected change of circumstances are forced to flee so as to avoid custodial sentences. Most debtors are keen to repay their obligations from abroad once they have resettled, but banks have little tolerance for any disruption and will approach debt recovery aggressively, employing illegal tactics like harassment of family, friends, colleagues or personnel at a new place of employment. The debtor will often offer what they can afford on a monthly basis but the bank will not accept it. Their next pressure tactic will be the use of Interpol. After securing a local criminal conviction, the bank will escalate a debt to Interpol, reporting it as “fraud”. Interpol should not have a single bank debt on their database but have accepted notices for credit card debts as low as €15,000 Euros. In the past two years, there have been a number of arrests as a result of a bank’s malicious report including a woman in Italy, two in Germany and one in Sweden. Stirling continued “innocent people are being jailed for up to 45 days over credit card debts because Interpol has failed in their duty of care to the public. Even after the 45 days in prison, they still have to wait up to a year to have their name cleared. It’s a devastating situation for the victims and a huge embarrassing failure for Interpol. If Interpol can not even prevent basic atrocities, how can they be respected as a competent data provider? “We continue to encourage countries like Qatar and the UAE to self regulate, but there is little incentive when Interpol itself is not enforcing its own charter”. Anyone who believes they may be at risk of an Interpol notice should seek confidential expert advice as soon as possible to either prevent escalation or to remove an existing notice.
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