Much attention has been paid to Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, and the fear of a repeat in the upcoming midterms. Less examined, however, has been Russia’s abuse of Interpol and the American court system to persecute the Kremlin’s rivals in the United States—a problem that the Atlantic Council described in a recent report as another form of “interference” by Russia.
Russia’s requests to Interpol to issue Red Notices—the closest instrument to an international arrest warrant in use today—against Kremlin opponents are being met with increasing deference by the Department of Homeland Security, according to immigration attorneys and experts in transnational crime and corruption, Natasha Bertrand wrote for the Atlantic Council.
Interpol cannot compel any member country to arrest an individual who is the subject of a Red Notice, according to its guidelines, and “the United States does not consider a Red Notice alone to be a sufficient basis for the arrest of a subject because it does not meet the requirements for arrest under the 4th Amendment to the Constitution,” according to the Justice Department. But the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. immigration courts are effectively facilitating “backdoor extraditions,” as one immigration attorney said, in their reliance on Red Notices as a basis for detention and, ultimately, removal.
Brendan Raedy, a spokesman for ICE, told the author that it is the agency’s “responsibility to carefully vet any alleged Russian criminal violator that has come to the United States, and make the very best and most educated determination of whether the individual is indeed a criminal: Do they present an ongoing threat, are they fleeing criminal prosecution, or have they lied about their criminal activity in order to gain entry to the United States?” Raedy noted that ice has attache offices who vet “criminal/fugitive leads to ensure that the individual in question is a true criminal, and not simply a political target of those in power.”
“Only after completing this process and determining which individuals are clearly the targets of legitimate criminal investigations do we then prioritize which of these criminals to pursue for either criminal investigation or deportation,” Raedy said. LaTonya Turner, Interpol Washington’s communications chief, declined to comment.
But Michelle Estlund, a criminal defense attorney who focuses on Interpol defense work, said, “There is a disconnect between our decision to not have an extradition treaty with Russia and the decision to allow Russia to circumvent the extradition process using Red Notices. The effect is that we are removing people to countries that we would not normally extradite to.”
In essence, Russia has figured out how to use Interpol and U.S. immigration courts to go after Kremlin rivals. But it doesn’t end there. Anders Aslund, a resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council who worked as an economic adviser to the Russian government from 1991 to 1994, believes Russia’s efforts to target its rivals abroad goes well beyond Red Notices and to the heart of the U.S. judicial system. “In recent years, Kremlin proxies have exploited U.S. courts by pursuing superficially legitimate lawsuits,” Aslund wrote in a recent report, in order to perpetrate “global harassment campaigns against the Kremlin’s enemies” and “enrich themselves through bad faith claims made possible by the Russian state’s abuse of disfavored individuals and their businesses.”