Since international organised crime became global, it has been increasingly merging with world politics and world economics.
This means new challenges are ahead for international organisations and law enforcement agents. Euronews’ Sergio Cantone spoke to the Secretary General of INTERPOL, Jürgen Stock, outside their HQ in Lyon, France, about this topic.
Sergio Cantone, Euronews (SC): How has the cooperation among police forces and the exchange of information been working since the beginning of the war in Ukraine?
Jürgen Stock, Secretary General of INTERPOL (JS): INTERPOL’s mandate is that despite political circumstances, despite the difficult situation, we try to facilitate at least a minimum level or the best possible level of international police cooperation. So, if it is a political conflict, of course, we have to avoid that our tools and services are being abused for political purposes, and we are taking that role very seriously, on the one hand. On the other hand, we say we keep the channels of international police cooperation open because, again, criminals exploit any kind of crisis we are having. In particular, to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, we are very concerned about the weapons that are being delivered and that as soon as the weapons are silent might end up in other theatres around the world. We have seen that in the Balkans. There are many examples. We have seen that criminals try to exploit desperate victims of this conflict who try to leave the country looking for shelter: for example women, and children.
SC: Can you count on the full cooperation, for instance, of the Russian police and security services when it comes to access to databases and full cooperation in terms of providing you names or even evidence of these criminal activities?
JS: INTERPOL is providing a platform for international police cooperation. And what we see is, in regard to this conflict, that there is still some, if I may say, traffic going on, some exchange of information in regards to what we call ordinary law crime. So, not politically motivated crime, this is where INTERPOL has to stay away because we are not a political organization.
SC: Yes, Article three of the statute [constitution].
JS: Article three, is for us of utmost importance. And the Constitution says we have to strictly apply that rule. But there’s ordinary law crime. They are simply criminals who try to exploit that crisis and we are working hard to connect our member countries in the region, all countries.
SC: Even because criminal organisations were already active well before the war. You have already mentioned the ‘Ndrangheta, for instance, from Italy, they had very developed networks both in Ukraine and in Russia. And it’s very difficult to think that now, because of the war, this network has been cut.
JS: Now, you are right. We have to understand the flexibility of transnational organized crime. They are permanently looking for new opportunities to make money. We have seen that during the pandemic, a kind of parallel pandemic of cyber-enabled crime, for instance, where the criminals very quickly shifted to the new vulnerabilities. And again, vulnerabilities in today’s world, unfortunately, we have a lot around the world, are being considered opportunities for criminals. Our databases are being searched statistically every second as we speak here. More than 280 times. Because you cannot capture the complexity of today’s crime if you are not using such a centralized platform where you collect all the information. And, our ambition is to give the information back enriched. So, helping connect the dots.
SC: Can you rely on your Russian colleagues?
JS: I mean, important is that we are not rubber stamping any information that is coming from our member countries. That applies to all member countries that I have been setting up a huge apparatus here in the Secretariat 2016 and in the following years to check every piece of information. For instance, a request to publish a Red notice which is this famous, very successful tool that helps every year arresting thousands of criminals around the world. But to ensure that this instrument and other instruments are not being used, abused, or misused for political purposes, for military purposes.
SC: There are crimes that are being perpetrated by organized crime that are inherently related to military aspects, for instance, arms trafficking. So how do you deal with this?
JS: 5% of the information requires an in-depth scrutiny process. And again, I’ve been developing a complex process here and a big team of experts who are doing it. If we have serious doubts that a request is not in line with our Constitution, we decline the request.
SC: There are cases of violations of human rights, child abuse, and human trafficking that are also taking place. But many of these crimes are part of what is being considered as war crimes. How do you deal with that?
JS: It’s a case-by-case consideration. As you said, there was no black and white. It requires a good team that is assessing a case from different directions. It requires us also to collect information from various sources, not just the requesting country, but other countries who might have information on a person, whether this person, for instance, has been granted protective status, or refugee status. This is the reason for us to not take any action and to decline any request, for instance, for a red notice.
SC: The AI is strongly related to the virtual world of the Internet, and it’s already in an extra-legal world and many crimes are taking place there. So what are you asking to the, say, state actors, world leaders, or international institutions?
JS: I mean, first of all, everybody has to understand the complexity and the threat that these types of crime are posing for national security. We are contributing, for instance, to artificial intelligence in a product that we have been distributing very recently, a toolkit for national law enforcement, for the responsible use of artificial intelligence. We cannot tell our member countries what they have to do, but at least we want to provide guidance to use these tools because they must be used. Otherwise, we cannot deal with these big data, the mass availability of information we can. And that helps INTERPOL, for instance, with our database online of child sexual exploitation, which we have been rescuing since the creation, more than 30,000 victims of sexual abuse. And every photo, every image is a crime scene.
SC: Don’t you think that there is a shortcoming at the base because the Internet lobby in the United States has a strong grip on the federal government?
JS: It’s not only about particular countries. This is a global threat of course, a little bit different because it has a global dimension.
SC: But most of these companies are coming from the US
JS: Of course. Yeah, but we have to we have that discussion for quite a while, maybe ten or 15 years about it: security regulation that perhaps is required. So, we are telling lawmakers, look, the situation is very serious. These are issues that concern the national security all over the world. It’s not up to INTERPOL to decide what kind of political consequences are being drawn, but could you imagine that INTERPOL would not exist? 100 years after its creation, a platform where member countries could share information despite political turbulences even if diplomatic ties do not exist or countries are in conflict? And it’s INTERPOL that is telling member countries to which extent a transnational organised club has been spreading its tentacles to different continents. And that is the real dimension of the organised crime today. It’s not just international crossing borders, crossing continents. It’s like a criminal global enterprise.