BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – Three years after customs officers detained him on an Interpol red notice, a U.S. citizen claims in a federal complaint that Interpol is helping the United Arab Emirates to lash out at political rivals.
Filed Wednesday in the Eastern District, the suit against the entity otherwise known as the International Criminal Police Organization comes from Oussama El Omari, who served as CEO and president of the Ras Al Khaimah Free Trade Zone in the United Arab Emirates until he was ousted in a coup.
El Omari, who lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, says he was passing through customs at JFK Airport on July 31, 2016, when officers let him know he “must have serious problems with the UAE.”
When El Omari followed up with Interpol that fall, according to the complaint, he learned that Ras Al Khaimah had leveled embezzlement charges against him that allowed the UAE to secure an Interpol red notice, kind of a Most Wanted list for the international policing agency.
“It is only because the United States does not have an extradition treaty with the UAE that plaintiff was not arrested upon his arrival at JFK Airport and delivered to the UAE,” the complaint states. “Interpol’s red notice prevents plaintiff from traveling outside of the United States for this fear of his physical safety. Plaintiff has been deprived of his livelihood as a specialist in economic free zones. Plaintiff also cannot travel to visit his family in his native Morocco.”
El Omari says the red notice was issued at the behest of one of UAE’s new leaders for political reasons, but that Interpol has refused to delete it from its computers.
“Interpol’s dissemination and continued dissemination of the erroneous Red Notice directly puts [El Omari] in serious and extreme fear for his physical safety of his arrest, return to the UAE, and torture and disappearance in the jails of the UAE,” the complaint states.
El Omari claims he was “victimized as a scapegoat” in a family spat between Sheikh Faisal Bin Saqr Al Qassimim, whom El Omari worked for in the Ras Al Khaimah economic free zone industry, and its newly installed ruler Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr al-Qasimi.
In 2010, a power struggle among members of the Saqr al-Qasimi family broke out after the death of Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammad al-Qasimi — the world’s longest-serving ruler. El Omari’s boss, Sheikh Faisal Bin Saqr al-Qasimi, was one of those vying for power in the vacuum.
The red notice was issued in secret after the new Sheikh fired El Omari and his co-workers, El Omari claims.
As part of his demands to Interpol, El Omari claims that the agency issued the red notice with only three of the five members of a panel required under the agency’s own rules.
According to the complaint, Interpol told El Omari in July 2017 that, “even assuming that there may be some political elements surrounding this case, the information provided is clearly not sufficient to establish that these elements were predominant over the ordinary criminal law elements of the case.”
Interpol allegedly assured El Omari that he would be given a fair hearing with a lawyer of his choice.
The 21-page lawsuit, which delves into Interpol’s political and sometimes sordid history, notes that agency’s own documents prohibit the agency from participating in political persecution but that the agency has a “history of abuse” of red notices from the UAE.
El Omari has railed publicly against Interpol and the red notice in recent years, arguing in one editorial for the Washington Post that authoritarian regimes abuse the red-notice process to harass political opponents.
“I still have my life, and a home in North Carolina, but I no longer have my livelihood,” El Omari wrote. “I am afraid to travel internationally, which is essential to my work developing free-trade zones. I may never see my brother again.”
Red notices act as request to detain certain wanted individuals, but are not technically arrest warrants since Interpol has no such power. Still, many countries treat them as such,
Others have catalogued potential abuse of red notices by certain countries, including Russia and Iran. Arrests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents using red notices also have raised eyebrows, with some claiming it has allowed Russian President Vladimir Putin to use U.S. immigration officials to punish dissidents.
Representatives for Interpol declined to comment on El Omari’s complaint. The agency told The Daily Beast last year that the number of red notices issued that seem to be politically motivated is small.
“We accept that even one case is one too many, especially for the individual concerned,” Interpol added, “and continue to work with member countries to maintain the integrity of the notices system.”
El Omari also has brought two federal complaints against the UAE, alleging breach of contract and retaliation, over his 2012 ouster. Those lawsuits have been dismissed on sovereign immunity grounds, and El Omari’s petition to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court was denied.
El Omari’s attorney, Scott Michael Moore, said his client “seeks justice and we are confident that INTERPOL will be held accountable in this lawsuit.”