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Global Interpol meet: India to focus on 780 fugitives, cyber and economic crimes

PM Modi to address Interpol General Assembly on Tuesday

Jurgen Stock, Secretary General, Interpol and Praveen Sinha, Special Director, CBI, address a press conference ahead of the 90th Interpol General Assembly in Delhi | PTI Jurgen Stock, Secretary General, Interpol and Praveen Sinha, Special Director, CBI, address a press conference ahead of the 90th Interpol General Assembly in Delhi | PTI

India is looking for 780 fugitives who have fled abroad. These fugitives are on Interpol’s most wanted list but India’s chances of getting them back depends on the cooperation offered by countries where the accused are hiding. While some countries cooperate to the extent of summarily deporting the accused person, some are going into lengthy extradition processes, posing a challenge to Indian investigating agencies.

“We have approached Interpol for look out for these fugitives,” said a senior government official ahead of the 90th General Assembly of the International Police Organisation slated to begin in Delhi on Tuesday. Police chiefs, ministers and heads of several law enforcement agencies belonging to 195 countries, including China, Russia, Ukraine, the US and the UK are in the capital .

For India, the Gulf countries have been a bright spot in this regard by deporting the accused in several cases recently even as the UK has opted for putting fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi in jail instead of sending him back to India immediately to face trial in the multi-crore Punjab National Bank scam case. His arrest in the UK, however, is seen as a feather in the cap of both Interpol and the CBI—the nodal agency that coordinates with national central bureaus of other countries.

Another key accused in the bank scam case, Mehul Choksi continues to evade Indian investigating agencies who are trying to get him back to the country. At the same time, attempts to get an Interpol Red Corner Notice against liquor baron Vijay Mallya became onerous for Indian authorities last year after Interpol sought clarifications.

All along, it has also been an uphill task for the National Investigation Agency to get an RCN against controversial televangelist Zakir Naik who is in Malaysia. The Interpol was not convinced with the evidence made available by the Indian agencies who want him in terror related cases.

'Red notice not an arrest warrant'

Refusing to comment on individual cases, Interpol Secretary General Jurgen Stock on Monday said a Red Notice is not an international arrest warrant, and Interpol cannot force any member country to arrest an individual who is the subject of a Red Notice.

“It is not for Interpol to judge the merit of a case or a decision taken by national courts – that is a sovereign matter,” he said. “Our role is to assess if a request for a Red Notice is in line with our Constitution and Rules,” he explained.

This meant that Interpol will not accept a request if it is “political, military, religious or racial in character, or is not in accordance with our Rules on the Processing of Data,” said Stock.

This can be seen as a grey area for member countries when their requests are turned down. Stock said Interpol’s “neutrality and independence” is essential to perform its role as the backbone of the global security architecture.

A CBI official explained that once the work of the Interpol in tracking criminals and putting them on its list is over, the diplomatic relations and treaties with other countries comes into play. There are various instruments for it like the Letters Rogatory, which is essentially a legal process; Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, a legal and administrative process and extradition pacts between countries. India has MLATs with nearly 43 countries and agreements with more than a dozen.

Diplomacy comes into play when a country refuses to extradite a fugitive. In such cases, India, like other countries, follows the principle of reciprocity.

Praveen Sinha, special director in CBI and a member of the Interpol Executive Committee, said the role of Interpol has grown significantly over the years and India is playing a major role today in training and capacity building of global police agencies especially in countering cyber crimes.

'Less than 1% of illicit financial flows are intercepted'

As police chiefs of 195 countries gather under one roof in the capital for the next two days, the threats from global illicit financial flows and cyber crime are expected to get special attention.

Stock said organised crime networks are making billions of dollars, and the fact is that only less than one per cent of global illicit financial flows are intercepted and recovered. “Nearly 99 per cent of stolen assets remain in criminal hands.”

Combined with estimates of the global cost of cybercrime which is expected to reach 10.5 trillion US dollars by 2025, the worry is huge.

“This brings us to the basics of policing – follow the money,” said Stock. He said the Interpol has developed a global stop-payment mechanism, the Anti-Money Laundering Rapid Response Protocol, which has helped member countries recover more than 60 million dollars in criminal proceeds from cyber enabled fraud in the last ten months.

“We know that cyber crime and online child abuse are significantly under-reported, often because victims are ashamed or in cases of fraud, embarrassed, which means that the figures we see are just the tip of the ice berg,” he said. A number of resolutions will be passed at the General Assembly for speedier action and using Interpol resources to combat these crimes.

How Delhi meet gains significance

Interpol helps member countries in numerous ways besides channelling requests for extradition, which includes providing access to 19 data bases that the organisation maintains.

At the moment , Interpol has 126 million records of fingerprints, DNA samples or facial recognition of individuals around the world in its database. Interpol registers 250 searches every second, which comes to 2 crore searches being made daily by police agencies worldwide. This demonstrates how quick and technologically intensive the process has become within a century.

In 2023, Interpol completes a century—it was established on September 7, 1923.

Which is why its General Assembly meet in New Delhi gains more significance as several road maps are being laid out to meet challenges in 2030, 2050 and so on. Several memorandums of understanding between members countries are expected to be signed.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will address the Interpol General Assembly on Tuesday where India’s role as a leading training and capacity building centre is expected to be highlighted.

The challenges are many. Interpol has a limited mandate since concerns around state-sponsored terrorism do not fall under its jurisdiction. On Monday, Stock said curbing state-sponsored terrorism was not its mandate, rather “ordinary crime law “ came under its ambit.

“We are going against abusers, rapists, murderers, drug dealers, cyber criminals who want to make billions of money. That is the majority of crime that occurs around the world. That is why Interpol exists,” he said. “We are not a political body, we leave politics to the politicians,” he added.

Taiwan out

To a question on Interpol turning down Taiwan’s request for observer status at the General Assembly meet in New Delhi, Stock said, “In 1984, Interpol General Assembly recognised the People’s Republic of China as the sole representation of China. As such, Interpol recognises Taiwan is part of China and China is a member of Interpol. Interpol cannot grant Taiwan observer status in General Assembly.”

He said the arrangements didn’t allow it. But the Taiwanese government, which recently faced cross strait military aggression by China, won’t be pleased given that it wanted meaningful participation to ensure there are no gaps in the global fight against cross-border crime. Lastly, it remains to be seen how concerns raised by member countries about Russia-Ukraine crisis and war crimes are addressed, especially with police representatives of both countries, coming face-to-face at the global meet.

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