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Interpol red notice: what it means and why SA requested it

Such a notice is a precursor to a request for a person’s extradition to stand trial in a country. It is not an arrest warrant

07 June 2022 - 19:45 By Bernadine Benson
Ajay, right, and Atul Gupta are on the run from the law in SA. Their sibling, Rajesh, with Atul, is wanted on fraud and money laundering charges.
NO MORE GUNNING IT Ajay, right, and Atul Gupta are on the run from the law in SA. Their sibling, Rajesh, with Atul, is wanted on fraud and money laundering charges.
Image: Martin Rhodes/Business Day

Brothers Atul and Rajesh Gupta have been arrested in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). They are accused in SA of profiting from close links with former president Jacob Zuma and exerting unfair influence. Their arrests follow the issuing of a red notice by the International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol) at the beginning of March. This paved the way for their arrest to face fraud and money laundering charges here. At the height of their activities in SA they owned a business empire spanning computer equipment, media and mining. The Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture recently found the pair, who are in their 40s, orchestrated massive corruption with Zuma’s help. Thabo Leshilo asked Bernadine Benson to explain.

What is Interpol and what does it do?

Interpol is an inter-governmental 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 worldwide to work together. These agencies can share information on crime, criminals and criminal activities through an advanced, secure, e-communications system.

The three primary crime programmes considered a global priority are counter terrorism, 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 and Coordination Centre , its nerve centre, provides a 24-hour support service.

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

Each member country has a National Central Bureau, 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 governmental 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. Their 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 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 process could pose a threat to the property or lives of people.

  • Purple: when information on hiding places, objects, devices or modus operandi of criminals are 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 notices are “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 Dewani while on honeymoon in Cape Town. He was eventually tried and acquitted in December that year.

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.

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

A red notice has been issued: what now?

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

The red notice is a forerunner for initiating a formal request for their extradition to stand trial in SA.

In June 2021 the ministry of justice and 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 here for massive 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.

Bernadine Benson is an associate professor, police practice, at the University of South Africa (Unisa).

This story, first published by The Conversation, was updated after the arrest of Atul and Rajesh Gupta.

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