Moscow’s prosecution of Lithuanian judges is an attack on the legal order. Britain should take a tougher line.

Interpol has yet again been criticised by the European parliament for co-operating with Russia and allowing its processes to be abused for political motives.

The Russian prosecutor-general is requesting the extradition of a group of Lithuanian judges who tried Russian officials in absentia and found them guilty of war crimes. This tit-for-tat diplomacy is a flagrant attack on the legal order. As the cases stem from the Lithuanian declaration of independence, their political nature cannot be denied.

Immediately after Lithuania’s declaration of independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, 14 civilians were killed and nearly 800 wounded by Soviet troops on the Vilnius TV tower.

Lithuania has since been trying to bring to justice the perpetrators of those war crimes. Last March a Lithuanian court found 67 people, including a former KGB chief and a former Soviet Union defence minister, guilty.

Unsurprisingly, Russia did not respond to the request for co-operation from a Lithuanian judge. The majority of those accused were tried in absentia and convicted.

In retaliation Russia started a criminal case against the Lithuanian judges, prosecutors and investigators involved. That case is the basis for Russia using Interpol and making requests for extradition of the Lithuanian judges and officials. Interpol is being used to help to further political aims.

Russia’s outlandish and egregious behaviour has been severely criticised. Last month MEPs called on Russia to end the prosecutions. The parliament denounced Russia’s actions as “unacceptable external influence”, “politically motivated” and a violation of fundamental legal values, especially the independence of the judiciary.

The MEPs also requested that no member state transfer any personal data to Russia or provide legal assistance that could be used in the criminal proceedings against the Lithuanian judges. EU countries and Interpol “should also ignore all international arrest warrants against the accused Lithuanian officials”.

They also called for EU states to be more consistent in their policies towards Russia.

This is of no surprise. In Britain we have experienced the long arm of Russian interference, from the assassination of the former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko and alleged election interference to the use of London to launder Russian money.

The fact that Britain still executes extradition requests from Moscow and pays lip service to international co-operation with a country hell-bent on disruption makes no sense. Britain’s policy towards Russia should be one of deep suspicion — instead we allow them to use Interpol for political motives.

Interpol red notices can be removed if they are shown to be politically motivated but the definition is narrow. There is no appeal and no judicial oversight of Interpol, so trying to remove a notice is difficult.

There has been some improvement in Interpol’s procedures but there are still problems with the transparency of its processes. Only recently did Interpol publish decisions showing how it considered requests to remove political red notices, a move that has finally given lawyers better insight.

Russia remains a member of Interpol even when it persistently misuses the system for political gain.

This article was published in by The Times on 12 December 2019, you can access the original article here.

Ben Keith is a barrister at 5SAH specialising in international human rights, extradition, immigration, serious fraud and public law. Ranked in Chambers and Partners as a band 1 leader in the field of Extradition at the London Bar and in the Legal 500 as a band 1 leading individual in international crime and extradition.