French anti-terror prosecutors have opened a preliminary inquiry into torture and acts of barbarism allegedly committed by Emirati General Ahmed Nasser al-Raisi who in November last year became president of Interpol, according to judicial sources cited by the AFP news agency.
The inquiry follows a legal complaint by an NGO, which accused al-Raisi of being responsible for the torture of an opposition figure in his role as a high-ranking official at the United Arab Emirates interior ministry.
The Gulf Centre for Human rights (GCHR), holding al-Raisi responsible for the inhumane treatment of Ahmed Mansoor, an opponent of the Emirati government, lodged its complaint in January with the anti-terror prosecutors unit whose brief includes handling crimes against humanity.
Allegations of torture had already been levelled at al-Raisi by human rights organisations when he ran for president of Interpol, saying they feared the agency would be at risk of exploitation by repressive regimes.
He was nevertheless voted in as president in November following generous funding from the UAE for the Lyon, France-based body.
There were also accusations that Abu Dhabi had abused Interpol’s system of so-called “red notices” for wanted suspects to persecute political dissidents.
The inquiry against al-Raisi is being handled by the prosecution unit for crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes, the sources said on Thursday.
William Bourdon, a high-profile lawyer acting for the GCHR, said it was “totally incomprehensible” that the prosecutors had not immediately ordered Raisi’s arrest which, he said, “they should have done given that he is in France”.
The accusations were a sufficient motive to lift Raisi’s diplomatic immunity which he enjoys thanks to an agreement between the French state and Interpol, Bourdon said.
GCHR boss Khalid Ibrahim told AFP he had been interviewed by the French police on March 18.
“I told them the French prosecutor is very slow in taking actions in relation to … very serious allegations of torture against Major General Ahmed Nasser al-Raisi.”
Two previous complaints against al-Raisi had been rejected on competency grounds by French prosecutors who said they could not prosecute unless the accused resided in France permanently or temporarily.
But in its latest filing, the NGO was able to show that al-Raisi was in Lyon in January and again in March, using his activity on Twitter as evidence.
Al-Raisi was elected following three rounds of voting during which he received 68.9 percent of votes cast by Interpol member countries.
His four-year role at Interpol is largely ceremonial, with Secretary-General Juergen Stock handling day-to-day management of the organisation.
$54m for Interpol
Al-Raisi joined the Emirati police force in 1980 and worked there for several decades.
His candidacy for the Interpol job prompted a series of protests, including from European Parliament deputies.
Several NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, said al-Raisi was “part of a security apparatus that continues to systematically target peaceful critics”.
In a previous complaint against al-Raisi, British man Matthew Hedges said he was imprisoned and tortured between May and November 2018 in the UAE after being arrested on false charges of espionage during a study trip.
Mansoor, meanwhile, has been imprisoned since 2017 in a 4 square-metre (43 square feet) cell “without a mattress or protection against the cold” and “without access to a doctor, hygiene, water and sanitary facilities” while serving a 10-year sentence for allegedly threatening state security, according to his lawyers.
The UAE’s foreign ministry rejected the complaints over Mansoor’s detention conditions as “without foundation”.
The UAE donated $54m to Interpol in 2017 – almost equivalent to the required contributions of all the organisation’s 195 member countries which amounted to $68m in 2020.