Opinion: The Funny Business of Interpol’s “Red Notice”

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On November 20, former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and Chinese real estate tycoon Guo Wengui (also known as Miles Kwok) announced a rare union in the historical Pierre Hotel in New York City, where Nixon stayed as president-elect before moving to Washington, D.C.

In the grant Cotillion room, which was featured in the Oscar-winning film “Scent of a Woman,” the two men told international media that they were setting up a “Rule of Law” foundation to investigate corruption and abuse of power by Chinese authorities to help victims of Chinese communism. Guo Wengui would put in $100 million of his own money to get the ball rolling.

The next day, a Beijing newspaper, Global Times, published an editorial calling Guo Wengui “a fugitive who is in the wanted list of Interpol.” The major mouthpiece of Chinese government labeled Guo a “liar” and Bannon a “mysterious political figure” with “radical ideas.” The odd couple, the paper claimed, would only produce “a ludicrous episode” with a pile of cash.

In fact, Interpol does not have a “wanted” list. It only publishes a list called “Red Notice.” Such a notice issued on Guo on April 19, 2017, seems to be a fake one, according to my own investigation. Here is the revealing story:

On the morning of Friday, April 14, 2017, Beijing time, the Chinese TV channel Voice of America (VOA) aired a promo telling its audience that Guo Wengui would appear live at 9 p.m., April 19. One business day later, on the morning of April 17, the Chinese government issued an arrest warrant on Guo, who had been living in America for two-and-a-half years.

On the afternoon of the same day, the VOA correspondent in Beijing was summoned by the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry. The officials warned VOA not to interview Guo, who became a wanted criminal that morning. Besides the routine allegation of “interference in China’s affairs by foreign press,” the officials also indicated that the Guo interview might disturb the incoming 19th Communist Party Congress.

The next day, VOA headquarters in Washington, D.C., was bombarded with dozens of threatening phone calls from the Chinese Embassy, demanding the cancelation of the Guo interview.

Twelve hours ahead of the scheduled interview, the international media reported that Interpol issued a “Red Notice” on Guo. Some media outlets called it “an international arrest warrant.”

At the time, I was leading the VOA interview team in New York. We had already pre-interviewed Guo for more than 10 hours. Immediately, we checked the Interpol website but found no such announcement. All quoted sources seemed to come from the Chinese authorities. The Interpol Headquarters in Lyon, France, was closed for the night.

I called our correspondent, asking him to contact Lyon at the proper hour and to keep checking the news. Later, the correspondent reported back to me that the Interpol Headquarters seemed not to be aware of what happened and could not provide a definite answer.

My team arrived at Guo’s 5th Avenue apartment early on the morning of April 19, the scheduled day of the show. I immediately asked Guo if he was informed of the Red Notice. To my huge surprise, he had no idea. After consulting his lawyer, he came back to me and said that, according to his lawyer, Interpol was an NGO with little real power over any member countries.

The live interview show went on air at 9 a.m. EST, which was 9 p.m. Beijing time. After the live show, which was suddenly unplugged by the VOA Headquarters in D.C. when it was ongoing, my colleagues and I took efforts to solve the mystery of the Red Notice.

Per VOA request, Interpol sent in its answers. Besides confirming that the organization had no policing power in any member nations, the letter addressed a few noticeable issues:

If INTERPOL is asked to send out a Red Notice in response to an arrest warrant, following a review to ensure the request conforms with our rules and regulations, the information will be sent out to all our 190 member countries.

In addition to this, member countries have the option of having an abridged version of the Red Notice posted on INTERPOLs website http://www.interpol.int/Wanted-Persons

If no Red Notice is published, this is either because one has not been requested or issued for that person, or the requesting country has asked that it not be publicized.

The United States is a member country. Yet, through various channels, we learned that the U.S. government never received information regarding the Red Notice on Guo.

Both “Guo Wengui” and “Miles Kwok” never appeared on the Interpol website. The requesting country, the People’s Republic of China, already publicized the information 12 hours ahead of our live program.

Later, we also learned that on April 18, a demonstration was held in front of the Interpol Headquarters. Led by the renowned political dissident Wei Jingsheng, the demonstrators condemned the election of Meng Hong Wei to be the Interpol chair. Meng also served as the deputy minister of the Chinese Public Security.

When China’s request arrived, some staff members of Interpol, who were aware of the ongoing demonstration, decided to do more due-diligence before granting the request.

Rushing to issue the Red Notice on Guo ahead of my live show, perhaps believing that VOA might withdraw the well-promoted program under such pressure, the Interpol Bureau in Beijing issued the document without final approval of the Lyon Headquarters. Immediately, it was sent to the international press.

Apparently, after the interview, the Chinese never followed up to get that necessary approval. Therefore, the report about the Red Notice on Guo became fake news.

The ludicrous drama continued. And the joke is on Interpol and the Chinese government. In mid-September of 2018, Meng Hongwei, the powerful chairman of Interpol, disappeared in China.

Two weeks later, his wife, Grace Meng, reported his disappearance to the French police. Chinese authorities then admitted that Meng was in their custody and was charged with corruption. There was no Red Notice on Chairman Meng.

By Sash Gong
Sasha Gong, a journalist with a Ph.D. from Harvard University, has been on administrative leave from her job as Chief of Mandarin Service for Voice of America for several months. She writes here solely in her own personal capacity and not on behalf of Voice of America.

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