"Ensure that no place in the world is a safe haven for criminals," while avoiding red notices targeting political opponents. This is the herculean task of Interpol, which, in the face of scandals, has significantly strengthened its controls.

More than 100,<> leaders from around the world are gathering in Vienna this week for the general assembly of the <>-year-old international police cooperation organization in the Austrian capital.

Its mission: to transmit to the network wanted notices issued by the justice system of a country against suspects designated under the term "Wanted persons", these famous "red notices", in order to facilitate their arrest.

"We are helping to connect continents to identify and locate criminals on the run," says Jürgen Stock, secretary general of this "information exchange platform" transferred to France after the war.

Among Interpol's greatest successes are the capture of former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic, who had been on the run for nearly 13 years before his arrest in 2008, and the French serial killer Charles Sobhraj, known as "The Serpent".

Appeal to the general public for body identification

The database is impressive. Interpol has some 125 million police files, for 16 million searches daily.

In addition to its work to fight crime, Interpol launched an unprecedented campaign in May, calling on the general public to identify the bodies of 22 women found over several decades in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.

One of them, known as "the woman with the tattooed flower", killed in 1992, was recently able to recover her name, Rita Roberts.

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Record control

But behind these successes, the Lyon-based organisation is regularly accused of being used by certain states to hunt down their dissidents.

Shortly after taking office in 2014, Jürgen Stock tackled the problem head-on. He set up a team of about forty experts in charge of checking the wanted notices before they were published.

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"Of course, we are analysing the geopolitical situation in the world and verifying the compliance of the notices," the secretary general said, welcoming a "robust mechanism".

"A small percentage" is rejected or cancelled: 1,465 in 2022, for a total of some 70,000 able-bodied. "If a case has political, military or religious dimensions, if we have any doubts, Interpol withdraws immediately," he insists.

He added that he had instituted "a new refugee policy" to protect those who had been granted refugee status.

'Underfunded organisation'

Several states are currently under surveillance by the organization, including Russia, which can no longer transmit messages directly to other members since the invasion of Ukraine. From now on, its requests are systematically made through the General Secretariat. Interpol refuses to name the others.

However, "there can be mistakes, just because there is no commonly accepted definition of terrorism," Stock acknowledges.

Journalist Mathieu Martinière, who published an in-depth investigation into Interpol in October with Robert Schmidt, points to "the lack of human resources of an underfunded organisation", with a budget of 155 million euros last year.

"Yes, the situation has improved, but more than 100 innocent people still fall through the cracks every year and can be extradited and imprisoned," the co-author of "Interpol: The Investigation" (Harper Collins Publishing) told AFP.

Another cause for concern is the election in 2021 as head of Interpol of Emirati General Ahmed Nasser al-Raisi, targeted in France by an investigation for complicity in torture. Its role is essentially ceremonial, replies Interpol, which defends its independence.

With AFP

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