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Interpol success throws spotlight on high-flying Emirati general

AFP logo AFP 11/25/2021 AFP
Interpol's new president, Emirati General Ahmed Nasser Al-Raisi, speaks on the phone during the organisation's general assembly in Istanbul © Ozan KOSE Interpol's new president, Emirati General Ahmed Nasser Al-Raisi, speaks on the phone during the organisation's general assembly in Istanbul

Interpol's new president has lived a life rich in awards and achievements, but none has attracted such controversy as his latest success which was accompanied by allegations of torture.

Emirati General Ahmed Nasser Al-Raisi always looked favourite to win Thursday's vote over veteran Czech police officer Sarka Havrankova, and he duly delivered 68.9 percent of the votes cast by member countries.

It is far from the only success for a man who became head of the United Arab Emirates' security forces in 2015 and has held several high-level police positions, including general director of central operations in the Abu Dhabi force.

Raisi's website portrays a man with a wide smile, often in highly decorated uniform or Arab dress, receiving medals and trophies from Gambia, Saudi Arabia, Colombia and Italy.

Raisi became an Emirati police cadet in 1980 and is a member of Interpol's executive committee. He has a PhD from Britain's London Metropolitan University and was involved in technological advances such as the introduction of facial recognition in UAE.

But while Raisi is undoubtedly well known in international police circles, it is his ascension to symbolic head of the world body that has thrust him into the global spotlight.

In October 2020, 19 NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, expressed concern about the possible choice of Raisi, who they described as "part of a security apparatus that continues to systematically target peaceful critics".

Complaints of "torture" were filed against the general in recent months in France and Turkey, which is hosting the general assembly in Istanbul this week.

One of the complainants, British national Matthew Hedges, said he was detained and tortured between May and November 2018 in the United Arab Emirates, after he was arrested on false charges of espionage during a study trip.

In another complaint, lawyers for the Gulf Centre for Human Rights accuse the Emirati general of "acts of torture and barbarism" committed against government critic Ahmed Mansoor.

- 'Police abuse is abhorrent' -

The complaints have not resulted in any formal proceedings against Raisi, who offered a swift riposte to his critics after his victory.

"I will... continue to reaffirm a core tenet of our profession -- that police abuse or mistreatment of any kind is abhorrent and intolerable," he said in a statement.

The general added that he would work "to prevent inappropriate influence that would undermine or compromise Interpol's essential mission".

The Lyon, France-based body has been facing accusations that Interpol's system of so-called "red notices" for wanted suspects has been abused to persecute political dissidents.

According to Edward Lemon, an assistant professor specialising in transnational repression at Texas A&M University, the resource-rich UAE donated $54 million (48 million euros) to Interpol in 2017, and about 10 million euros in 2019.

Raisi's election was quickly supported by UAE heavyweight Anwar Gargash, a former UAE minister of state for foreign affairs who alleged a "smear" campaign against the new Interpol president.

"The organised and intense smear and defamation campaign has been crushed on the rock of truth, for reality is not obscured by lies," tweeted Gargash, who advises the country's president.

Raisi said he was "fully dedicated to making people and communities safer". 

"Over the past 40 years from a police cadet to now, as president of Interpol, this simple principle has driven and guided me."

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