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Atul Gupta. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Atul Gupta. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

The International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol) has issued a red notice for two members of the wealthy but now disgraced Gupta family, Atul and Rajesh Gupta. This could now pave the way for their arrest and extradition from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to face fraud and money-laundering charges in SA. The Guptas – who at their height owned a business empire spanning computer equipment, media, and mining – are close friends of former president Jacob Zuma. A judicial commission of inquiry into state capture recently found that, with Zuma’s help, they orchestrated massive corruption. Thabo Leshilo asked Bernadine Benson to explain.

What is Interpol, and what does it do?

Interpol is an intergovernmental organisation, aiming to help connect police agencies across the globe. It’s headquartered in Lyon, France. Its primary purpose is to create a framework that enables policing and other law enforcement agencies across the globe to work together. These agencies can share information on crime, criminals and criminal activities through an advanced, secure e-communications system.

Currently, the three primary crime programmes considered a global priority are counterterrorism, organised and emerging crime, and cybercrime. All Interpol actions are bound by the law of the country it may be assisting and are politically neutral.

Who belongs to Interpol and what’s its jurisdiction?

Interpol has 195 member countries, including SA. At the click of a button a country can reach out to the network and get assistance on transnational crime, criminals and other criminal threats from other member countries. The Command & Co-ordination Centre, its nerve centre, provides a 24-hour support service.

The four official languages used by Interpol are Arabic, English, French and Spanish.

Each member country has a National Central Bureau which is the point of contact between it and the general secretariat in Lyon. These bureaus are staffed by the police officials of that country. They usually fall under the government department responsible for policing.

What is a red notice? Are there others?

Interpol uses a notice system to facilitate the speedy and effective transfer of time-sensitive information. Its international notices are colour-coded: red, blue, green, yellow, black, orange and purple.

A red notice is issued when a member country seeks assistance to locate and arrest an individual with the aim of having them extradited to face a criminal charge. The notice will only be issued if a valid warrant of arrest has been issued for the person in the requesting country. The other notices are:

  • Blue: to locate, identify, or gather information on a person of interest in a criminal matter.
  • Green: warn member countries of possible threats posed by criminal activities.
  • Yellow: to seek to either identify a person who is unable to identify themselves (such as a mentally challenged person who appears to be from another country), or to find a missing person.
  • Black: when information is sought on unidentified bodies.
  • Orange: when an event, person, object or a process could pose a threat to the property or lives of people.
  • Purple: when information on hiding places, objects, devices or the modus operandi of criminals is to be shared with member countries.

In addition to these colour notices, Interpol can also issue a UN Security Council Special Notice to inform member countries when the UN has activated sanctions against an individual or an entity.

The last type of notice is the “diffusion notices”. They are like the colour-coded notices, except they are sent directly to a specific country or selection of countries by the member country.

Has something like this happened before?

SA has previously requested the extradition of wanted fugitives. A well-known example is the extradition of Shrien Dewani in April 2014 from Britain to be tried for his alleged involvement in the 2010 murder of his wife, Anni, while on honeymoon in Cape Town. He was eventually tried and acquitted in December of that year.

More recently, SA requested the extradition of self-proclaimed prophet Shepherd Bushiri and his wife from Malawi to face money-laundering and other charges in SA.

A red notice has been issued: what now?

The issuing of an Interpol red notice is a process that can be seen to run parallel with the extradition process. The red notice is not an “international warrant of arrest”. But it will make international travel difficult for the person for whom the notice has been issued.

In the event of the Guptas crossing an international border, they will be flagged, and their location will be known to law enforcement agencies. An Interpol red notice does not mean that the UAE must detain the Gupta brothers. Rather, it’s a forerunner for initiating a formal request for their extradition to stand trial in SA.

In June 2021, the ministry of justice & correctional services announced the “finalisation and ratification of the treaties on extradition and mutual legal assistance between SA and the UAE”.

This paved the way for SA to start the extradition request for the two Gupta brothers, who ostensibly fled to the UAE to avoid prosecution in SA for corruption.

Extradition is often a time-consuming and drawn-out process consisting of complicated legal steps. The outcome of such an extradition request, however, will be determined in a court of law.

*Benson is associate professor: police practice at Unisa

This article first appeared at The Conversation Africa

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