In Focus Czech detention of Russian citizen fuels campaign for reform of Interpol
We return to the case of Russian citizen Tatiana Paraskevich who was detained for 22 months in the Czech Republic on what human rights organisations say are trumped up accusations dreamed up by Kazakhstan’s absolutist president. The good news is that the proceedings now appear to be nearing an end and she has been released from custody. But the case has thrown up questions about the possible abuse of international police cooperation agency Interpol and the role of Czech authorities.
Tatiana Paraskevich at times broke into tears at an emotional press conference in Prague last week as she thanked her family, Czech, and Polish supporters. The 49 year old mother and sympathizers were marking the beginning of the end of an almost two-year-long judicial nightmare played out in the Czech Republic. That nightmare began when Paraskevich was detained in the Czech spa city of Karlovy Vary in May 2012.
The breakthrough for the Russian citizen came with the news on March 18 that Czech Minister of Justice Helena Válková had quashed a Ukrainian extradition request. Ten days later a Czech court rejected a parallel extradition request from Russia. The Minister of Justice must make a final decision to block extradition.
Human rights organisations say both countries were being used by the dictatorial regime of Kazakh president Nursaltan Nazarbayev.
According to the extradition requests, Mrs. Paraskevich was suspected of being part of a large scale criminal organisation which defrauded tens of billions of dollars.
Amnesty International, the Open Dialog Society, and other human rights groups say the real reason was that Paraskevich was a former colleague of Mukhtar Ablyazov, the former businessman who become the biggest political opponent of president Nazarbayev before being forced to flee the country in fear of his life.
They say Paraskevich was being sought by the Kazakh authorities to give evidence against the former opposition leader. As well as the extradition requests, they say threats were also used against Paraskevich’s 81 year old mother and son and daughter still living in Moscow.
The human rights organisations say that Paraskevich’s case, and many similar ones staged against past associates of Ablyazov, are a sad reflection on the abuse of international police criminal cooperation organisation Interpol. They say the 22 months spent by Paraskevich in preventive custody at the repeated insistence of Czech prosecuting authorities, although there was a limited risk that she would flee a country where she is now requesting asylum, does not give a very flattering picture of the local judicial system either.
The Warsaw office of the Open Dialog Foundation was one of Mrs. Paraskevich’s most active and vociferous supporters. Political advisor Aleksandra Gajewska says her case follows the same format of many others directed by the Kazakh authorities using close links to Russia and former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.
“We have observed that process in the European Union. We have observed the cooperation of Ukraine, Russia, and Kazakhstan. [Extradition] requests were made in connection with opposition leaders and those working with them. We can put them into a few categories: they are accused of financial fraud cases, anti-government movements, and they are also accused of terrorism attacks. We can see the cooperation between Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan and we can observe it in Italy in the case of [Alma] Shalabeyeva, in France in the case of Ablyazov, the case of Tatiana Paraskevich here in the Czech Republic, but also in Poland in the case of Muratbek Ketebayev and in Spain where Alexander Pavlov was arrested too, ” she said.
A report by the Open Society Dialog outlines how the former states of the Soviet Union have signed many conventions on criminal cooperation between them and Kazakh secret services have what amounts to free rein to operate in Russia. It also cited an Amnesty International report on how special services in Russia, Ukraine, and states in Central Asia cooperated to illegally abduct targets and smuggle them away into prison.
But for the organisation which promotes Western European values based on democracy and respect for human rights, the biggest concern is how Kazakh authorities are indirectly able to manipulate Interpol to do their dirty work in European countries. In theory, Interpol’s constitution prohibits it from taking any action in activities of a political, military, religious, or racial character.
Aleksandra Gajewska again: “It is really, really worrying. We have written a report on the misuse of Interpol. It is really worrying for us that an institution that was supposed to be a good institution is now being used to look for and hunt members of the opposition. It is being used to make Western countries fight against what they want to do. We also went to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the European Parliament and have discussed the report. And I think that the OSCE is really interested in that worrying misuse of Interpol and Open Dialog Foundation is going to show more about how it is misused now. ”
One of its goals is that a public debate is launched in the European Union on reforms of Interpol’s supervisory mechanisms so that countries which violate human rights and cannot guarantee fair trials are no longer in a position to take advantage of the system.
With this in mind, Polish members of parliament appear to be taking the lead. Tomasz Makowski, a member of the Polish lower house, has been one of the active supporters of Tatiana Paraskevich and was present at her press conference in Prague last week. He says that a hearing on the reform of Interpol has been tabled for discussion in the Polish parliament and that the question has also been raised within the Visegard Four forum for cooperation between the four states of Central Europe, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, and Hungary.
Similar calls are coming from other organisations, such as the United Kingdom based non-governmental organisation, Fair Trials International. It has highlighted wider cases of abuse for the so called red notices, or warrants for international arrest, and the fact that these notices have more than doubled to more than 8,000 in 2012 compared with the situation four years earlier.
John Bok, is a former Czechoslovak dissident who in 1994 co-founded the independent campaigning group for justice, Šalamoun. He says that one of Interpol’s flaws is that it does not take any independent steps to check the information it is given but acts largely as an automatic processor of eviction requests.
“Interpol does not act like a classical police or investigative organisation. They are like a service for other states without any interest of any kind in whether the person committed the crime or not because they are police and the system is built on police rules and functions,” he said.
Bok, an outspoken, sometimes lone, and often controversial figure in the field of human rights, points out the fact that pre-WWII Interpol was originally sited in Vienna and eventually came under the control of Nazis with its organisational structure being used to threaten, find, and harry enemies of the regime. Reinhard Heydrich, the so-called protector of Bohemia, was at one time president of Interpol after it was fully taken over by the Nazi regime and moved to Berlin.
He adds that the Czech judicial system has been shown in a mixed light during the Paraskevic episode with the prosecution service adamant that she be kept in custody although this was an exceptional step in these circumstances.
“We think that really even 25 years after the changes, still there are some kind of mental and ideological relations between the people responsible for justice here and those from the post Soviet countries. ”
Tatiana Paraskevich’s Prague based lawyer, Marina Machytková, agreed that the insistence on custody for her client from the state prosecutor was an unusual feature of the case.
We contacted Interpol for a reaction to the claims that it is being manipulated and abused for political purposed. Interpol did not reply.