In my last blog post, I discussed the federal government’s increased focus on criminal activity that occurs overseas and the recent high-profile indictment filed by the Justice Department against nine FIFA officials. On June 3, 2015, INTERPOL, the world’s largest international police organization, issued Red Notices for six of the FIFA defendants. Red Notices issued by INTERPOL are the closest thing to an international arrest warrant. The FIFA cases present an opportunity to examine the work of INTERPOL and the significance of the notices it issues.

According to INTERPOL, its role is to “enable police around the world to work together to make the world a safer place.” The idea for the organization had its genesis in the First International Criminal Police Congress held in Monaco in 1914 at which police officers, lawyers, and jurists from 24 countries met to discuss arrest procedures, identification techniques, centralized international criminal records, and extradition proceedings. In 1923 the International Criminal Police Commission, now commonly known as INTERPOL, was formed with headquarters in Vienna. Today, INTERPOL has 190 member countries that use the organization’s global network to work together on cross-border investigations.

Contrary to popular belief, INTERPOL does not employ a police force that executes arrest warrants or hunts down fugitives. Instead, INTERPOL is a neutral third party that seeks to support police worldwide by serving as a resource and centralized point of collection for information. One way it furthers its aim of “connecting police for a safer world” is to post notices of international requests for cooperation or alerts that allow police in member countries to share crime-related information. The information disseminated via notices concerns individuals wanted for serious crimes, missing persons, unidentified bodies, possible threats, prison escapes, and criminals’ modi operandi. Notices offer high visibility to law enforcement for serious crimes or incidents.

Requests for notices are made by the member countries to the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files (CCF), which is recognized in INTERPOL’s constitution as an independent monitoring body of INTERPOL. The notice system consists of a set of color-coded notices, each published for a specific purpose related to criminal activity. The most well-known of INTERPOL’s eight notices are Red Notices – like those issued in the FIFA case – which are issued when a member country seeks the location and arrest of wanted persons with a view toward extradition. Some of the other notices include Blue Notices, which are issued to collect additional information about a person’s identity, location, or activities in relation to a crime, for example to learn information about a suspect who has not yet been charged, and Yellow Notices, which are issued to help locate missing persons.

Click here to view image.

Under CCF’s rules, Red Notices may be published only if 1) the offense concerned is a “serious ordinary-law crime,” which specifically excludes offenses that raise controversial issues relating to behavioral or cultural norms or those relating to family or private matters; 2) the offense meets the penalty threshold; and 3) the request serves the purposes of international police cooperation. The penalty threshold differs depending on whether the individual is sought for prosecution or has already been convicted and is sought to serve a sentence. In the former case, the offense must be punishable by at least 2 years, while in the latter case the person must only have a sentence of at least six months to serve. Further, INTERPOL’s constitution specifically prohibits the institution from involvement in political matters, so requests with a primarily political component may be denied. The determination of whether a matter is predominantly criminal with a political component and therefore acceptable, or vice versa and therefore unacceptable, is made on a case-by-case basis.

Once a notice is issued, it is circulated to member countries and the persons listed are put on “lookout lists.” To avoid tipping off fugitives or criminals, only those notices approved for public dissemination appear on INTERPOL’s website although the full list of notices is available to authorized users via INTERPOL’s Information System. An individual may not be aware that he or she is the subject of a notice until the person attempts to travel internationally or applies for immigration benefits. Even though INTERPOL explicitly states that any individual who is subject to an INTERPOL Notice should be considered innocent until proven guilty, the reality is that the notice may trigger not only detention or extradition proceedings, but also may prompt immigration authorities to prohibit entry, deny travel, or initiate deportation proceedings.

According to the United States Attorneys’ Manual published by the Justice Department, when a listed person is located, “the country that sought the listing is notified through INTERPOL and can request either his provisional arrest (if there is urgency) or file a formal request for extradition.” The country in which the individual is found is not compelled to act and may ignore the Notice if it believes that the requirements of an extradition treaty with the requesting country are not met. In addition, if the person is seized and the requirements of the extradition treaty are not satisfied by the requesting country, the person may be released.

Red Notices typically expire after five years, but are subject to renewal if the requesting member country advises INTERPOL that the notice should remain outstanding. INTERPOL is compelled to remove a Red Notice only when a wanted person or his or her attorney presents the organization with compelling evidence that maintaining the Red Notice would violate CCF’s rules.

Prosecutorial reliance on INTERPOL to track and monitor individuals believed to have engaged in wrongdoing is certain to grow with the increased efforts by nations to prosecute global wrongdoing. Although the issuance of a notice and the ruling made by INTERPOL in issuing the notice are not binding on any court, they are likely to serve as persuasive authority to any judicial body ruling on extradition or to any immigration authority. For this reason, defense counsel should familiarize themselves with INTERPOL’s notice system and its rules and procedures.

From The Insider Blog: White Collar Defense & Securities Enforcement.