Micaela Burro, DCNF
- India tried to issue an international wanted ad for an Indian-American businessman accused of fraud.
- Historically, authoritarian governments have attempted to use Interpol’s Red Notice system as a way of apprehending political nonconformists.
- Congress perceives transnational repression as a growing problem and has taken steps to address it.
India requested to add Indian-American entrepreneur Ramachandran Viswanathan to an international most-wanted list, one possible example among many documented cases of governments abusing the global policing body Interpol.
India charged the Bethesda, Maryland, resident with embezzling the government through his former position as CEO of a local company with a sizable state contract in 2016, the Deccan Herald reported. In February, India requested the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), an international body that liaisons for law enforcement organizations, issue a Red Notice for Viswanathan, according to a transcript of court documents shared with The Daily Caller News Foundation.
A Red Notice allows countries to recruit assistance from international law enforcement bodies in locating and carrying out provisional arrest orders against fugitives, according to the Interpol website.
However, Viswanathan claims he is innocent of the charges.
Instead, India is allegedly subjecting Viswanathan to an “intimidation campaign” to pressure him into backing out from enforcing a settlement with India, according to Matthew McGill, Viswanathan’s counsel, who spoke with TheDCNF.
In 2011, India annulled a contract between a state-run company, Antrix, and Viswanathan’s global telecommunications firm, Devas, ostensibly on the basis of needing to divert resources for national security purposes, the Indian Express reported. Devas sued, and three separate international tribunals ruled that the contract had been unlawfully terminated, awarding Devas compensation upwards of $1.3 billion, court documents show.
India refused to pay.
Devas initiated an enforcement campaign under the New York Convention, a 1958 UN treaty that permits enforcement of arbitral awards, seizing India’s state-owned assets in Canada and elsewhere, according to McGill. Then in May 2021 the highest court in India dissolved Devas on the basis that its founders created the company under “fraudulent circumstances,” the Indian Express reported.
India never questioned the veracity of Devas’ incorporation until Viswanathan began enforcing the awards, according to McGill.
🛑 INTERPOL’s Financial Crime and Anti-Corruption Centre and national contact points in Hong Kong (China) & the UK recently intercepted more than 💵 1.3 million stemming from Business E-Mail Compromise fraud.
Another success for global stop-payment cooperation 👏 👏 pic.twitter.com/aErLdCNDQC
— INTERPOL (@INTERPOL_HQ) June 20, 2022
India froze bank accounts belonging to former Devas employees, arrested some and initiated multiple criminal proceedings against Viswanathan, McGill told TheDCNF.
“I am the target of an organized campaign by the government of India that is clearly intended to pressure me into dropping all efforts to enforce judgment awards,” Viswanathan told TheDCNF in a statement. “As an Indian American who is proud of my heritage, I am truly disheartened by this lawless behavior.”
If the notice went out, Interpol member states would be required to detain Viswanathan and possibly extradite him to India for prosecution and imprisonment, according to McGill. Viswanathan could also lose his ability to safely do business worldwide and see his bank accounts shut down.
Interpol responded to the Indian government in May with additional questions about the red notice request, the transcript shows. Viswanathan and his lawyer say they have no knowledge of how India responded, or whether Interpol decided to grant the request.
“If one did issue, it would effectively mean that there is an international warrant for his arrest that India has manufactured based on wholly fabricated allegations,” said McGill.
Viswanathan does not appear in the Indian Enforcement Directorate’s database of wanted persons for whom Red Notices have been issued.
“It is the type of thuggish behavior that we’re used to seeing from Russia, but not from the world’s largest democracy,” said McGill.
Fourteen countries misused the Red Notice system to detain and return victims of state persecution between 2014 and 2021, according to a Freedom House report. While Russia, China and Turkey are recognized as the most prolific abusers, with China being the most successful, “India commits more abuse than people are aware of,” Ted Bromund, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told TheDCNF.
Bromund estimated that 5% of Interpol Red Notice requests fall into the abuse category. For example, Bill Browder, an American business tycoon who invested heavily in Russia before he fell afoul of Putin for attempting to expose Russian corruption, had Red Notice attempts made against him on eight separate occasions.
Browder chronicled his story in a book, Red Notice, and currently advocates against corruption.
Interpol maintains an inexhaustive list of crimes for which governments may not request issuance of a Red Notice, including actions involving contractual agreements. But if Interpol fails to adequately vet requests, governments can abuse the system to go after political dissidents, including uncooperative businessmen like Viswanathan, Bromund said.
Interpol has no inherent investigative or law enforcement, acting instead as a go-between for governments to cooperation on targeting and apprehending criminals, Bromund explained. Because of this, “it cannot seriously vet” most of the requests it receives, he said.
Congress has taken steps to address Interpol abuse. Section 6503 of the 2022 defense budget introduced measures to increase Interpol transparency and mandates that the United States cannot extradite an individual solely on the basis of a Red Notice.
Bromund suspects that Interpol has “grave concerns” about India’s request given the delay in approving India’s request. Even if Interpol denies the request, Viswanathan could suffer reputational consequences, which is why governments seeking to take advantage of the Red Notice system prefer to make notices public.
“Sometimes it’s not requested or obtained, but the waters are poisoned nonetheless,” said Bromund. “It’s not primarily about getting an individual back, but much more of a question of making the individual’s life hard.”
India will host the 91st Interpol General Assembly in 2022.
Interpol declined to comment on this story, saying it “does not … comment on specific cases or individuals except in special circumstances and with the approval of the member country concerned.”
Antrix, the Indian Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Finance did not respond to TheDCNF’s requests for comment.
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