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Analysis: Family proceedings in Dubai and the role of Interpol

Date:21 FEB 2019
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Michael Rowlands and Rebecca Niblock, of Kingsley Napley, look at the enforcement of orders made in family proceedings in Dubai and the role of Interpol.

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Last year, a report from Dubai spoke of the attempts by a mother to recover her daughter, apparently kidnapped by the child’s father and taken to Russia. The mother had been awarded custody in the Personal Status Court (PSC) of Dubai in circumstances where an extradition request had been made against her by the Russian authorities.

Armed with her custody order, the mother made a complaint to the Dubai authorities of kidnap under Article 329 of the UAE Penal Code, which makes it a criminal offence for a parent or grandparent to abduct or through others abduct a minor child “from the person entitled to care of him by virtue of a judgement” of a court.

The mother made her application so as to engage the support of Interpol.

Interpol is an international organisation that facilitates international cooperation between police forces. Interpol exercises influence by means of “Interpol Notices”. The most common of which is a Red Notice, the closest thing to an international arrest warrant.

The UAE is reportedly the strongest financial contributor to Interpol and it makes extensive use of Interpol, frequently against persons who have issued a cheque in the Emirates which is not then honoured: a criminal offence in the UAE, but generally not across Europe.

So far so good.

However, abuse of Interpol by Russia has been criticised: it has repeatedly sought Interpol assistance against Bill Browder, the CEO of Hermitage Capital. Interpol has not agreed to publish the notices, on the basis that the requests were “predominantly political in nature and therefore contrary to Interpol, rules and regulations”.

Recently, in what appears to be a new round of the Akhmedova divorce, it appears that Interpol has become embroiled in the long running attempts to enforce the English High Court financial order made in divorce proceedings. At the heart of the enforcement is the mega-yacht “Luna” with an apparent value of £230m and owned by a Liechtenstein Anstalt. The High Court in London “pierced the corporate veil” (said there was no distinction between the shareholders and the businesses assets) finding that Mr Akhmedov used corporate devices to prevent enforcement of its order, and the yacht has remained stuck in Dubai, the subject of complicated local enforcement proceedings.

A newspaper report suggested that, in what might be an attempt to undermine the High Court decision, Russia has informed Liechtenstein, using Interpol channels, that it was investigating claims from Mr Akhmedov regarding the “misappropriation” of his assets “on a large scale” based on a “fraud” committed by his wife.

In response, Mrs Akhmedova’s London lawyers have complained that “Interpol Russia has been misled” and that the “suspicion of abuse of Interpol Russia by Akhmedov – or someone on his behalf – is obvious”. So, where do these cases leave Interpol and what is the actual power behind the Interpol Red Notice?

A Red Notice can be issued to seek the location and arrest of a wanted person with a view to extradition. Different countries treat Interpol red notices in different ways. In the UK, a Red Notice does not amount to a warrant of arrest: there must be an extradition request (provisional or otherwise) supporting it before a person is arrested. In other countries, such as Italy or Spain, a red notice does amount to an arrest warrant. Where a Red Notice has been issued, travel across international borders is therefore fraught with risk, and Red Notices can be very powerful tools which can have the effect of preventing travel for those who are aware of, and subject to a Red Notice.

In terms of exchange of information, Interpol is best thought of as a global network, which operates through “national central bureaus” (“NCBs”) which are staffed by national police who facilitate the exchange of information, including red and other notices. If the Russian authorities have, as suggested by the article, opened an investigation of Mrs Akhmedova into the criminal misappropriation of assets and requested a Red Notice in relation to this, it will be down to her to seek to persuade Interpol that the Red Notice should not be published or, if it has already been published, removed. If, as with Bill Browder’s Red Notice, she is able to persuade the Commission which controls Interpol’s files that the allegations made against her are “predominantly political” (contrary to Interpol’s constitution which forbids the organisation to undertake any intervention of a political nature), the Red Notice should be removed. The task of persuading Interpol Anchor will not, however, be straightforward: she will need to marshall a great deal of evidence and present it to Interpol, hoping that it is considered at the next meeting of the Commission, which only meets once a quarter. It will be an uphill struggle.

In summary, it therefore seems that in some cases, Interpol has become an international political football. It appears unlikely that Russia will be returning the child to the UAE anytime soon, despite the extradition request, and that there is a risk that this final remedy, where the abduction of a child involves a non-Hague Convention country, will be subject to the political, economic and/or other value judgements that renders it powerless.

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