Qatar: Bank loan payment problems often lead to an INTERPOL Red Notice – A blatant violation of INTERPOL's Regulations
Qatar is currently in the spotlight. The soccer FIFA 2022 World Cup will start on 20 November 2022.
All attention will be on football. In the meantime, a lot of attention has also been paid to the many serious complaints that are being made about Qatar regarding various forms of serious human rights violations. Especially the slavery / exploitation accusations of migrant workers by Qatar during the construction of the football stadiums are regularly in the news (see for example: The Guardian).
Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch continuously report on the state of affairs. The US State Department also reports annually on the human rights situation in Qatar. The US State Department Country Report Qatar 2021, states among other things, the following: ‘’ Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: restrictions on free expression, including the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; restrictions on migrant workers’ freedom of movement; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully in free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation, including prohibitions on political parties; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct; and prohibitions on independent trade unions. The government took limited steps to prosecute those suspected of committing human rights abuses or engaging in corruption. The government took steps to address forced labor.’’
It is of course to be hoped that all this attention will have an effect and will lead to a strong improvement of the human rights situation in Qatar.
The bank debt that leads to an INTERPOL alert
In our law practice, we continuously see another serious problem in which Qatar issues INTERPOL Red Notices in cases where this is absolutely not allowed. Qatar abuses the INTERPOL Information System in doing so.
The victims of these practices are often expats / migrant workers who earn a reasonable salary in Qatar and who have taken out a loan with a Qatari Bank in the context of the purchase of a home, interior and/or car. Anyone who earns a decent salary in Qatar can borrow money very easily. Business loans by Qatari Banks are also provided easily, too easily.
But what if someone is simply fired by the employer because the economic results of the company are somewhat disappointing?
What if the business deal doesn't go through because a Qatari government agency or company has indicated that everything / the deal must suddenly change?
For example, you may receive a letter with the following content (this message comes from a concrete case) :
- ‘’Dear Sir/Madam, In response to the slow growth in revenue amidst the current uncertain economic situation in the Oil and Gas Industry, we regret to inform you that the Company has initiated a layoff exercise that includes your current position with the Company. The purpose of this letter is to confirm the outcome of the recent overview conducted by the Company and as a result, your services are no longer required……’’and;
- ’’…..Please note that your Residence Permit would be cancelled at the end of the above notice period….’’
A real and effective dismissal protection in Qatar hardly exists. After losing a job, the person concerned will also lose the Qatari residence permit.
Such dismissal letters often also state that the employer will inform the Criminal Evidences and Information Department of Qatar in the event that the dismissed employee does not contact them in a timely manner regarding the completion of the sponsorship formalities.
The state of affairs in Qatar boils down to the following: no job, then no residence permit, so mandatory removal from Qatar.
The result is that those involved cannot properly repay their bank loan. All this while there was never any question of criminal intentions surrounding the loan. Those involved did not want to commit a criminal offence. They are also not involved in any criminal conduct at all. Those involved usually just want another job so that they can meet the monthly payment obligations to the Bank. However, they are obliged to leave Qatar. In their home countries, however, incomes are often considerably lower. It may also take some time for them to find a new job and/or .
Those involved usually inform the Bank about their forced departure from Qatar and a repayment arrangement is proposed. Then one usually has to experience that any reasonable proposal is simply refused by the Qatari Banks. Sometimes payment is not yet possible as long as someone does not have a new job. It may take some time to restructure the company in case of a business loan.
And from now on, the consequences are often draconian for those involved.
Sometimes people are still informed by the Banks, for example with a following message (this message comes from a concrete case):
- ‘’the legal action is a police case inside Doha followed by Interpol action externally – It is common within all customers who have still pending unsettled debts and they are not in Doha anymore (regardless the reason of leaving the country).This legal procedure can’t be canceled, unfortunately, until full and final settlement.’’
This factual state of affairs is worrying and makes it immediately clear that the Qatari Bank is threatening to use Qatari criminal legislation on completely incorrect grounds. The persons didn’t commit any criminal behavior at all, on the contrary. However, experience has shown that Qatar will then actually use their criminal law system and the Qatar will issue INTERPOL Red Notice alerts in cases like this.
Many others don't even know about the pending criminal procedure and/or conviction in absentia. The Bank does not even inform them about this, because they are no longer in Qatar after all. Those involved are shocked to learn that an INTERPOL Red Notice has been issued against them after they are arrested abroad during international travel. It is possible that 2 or 3 years in prison may have been imposed by a Qatari Criminal Court in absentia.
A Red Notice issued by Qatar in these debt collection cases leads to a huge amount of unanticipated problems for those involved, such as possible repeated arrests in different countries (after border crossings), detention for some time, being denied entry to countries, visas being refused, domestically people can get problems with government agencies and/or their new employer because a Red Notice has been issued. However, the actual purpose of the Red Notice, a possible extradition to Qatar, rarely takes place. Countries generally refuse to extradite those involved for cases like this.
Qatar violates applicable INTERPOL regulations. How come it is still happening?
The answer is simple. INTERPOL currently has an insufficiently functioning control system to prevent misuse and plain abuse by countries of the INTERPOL Information System.
The control on the applications for Red Notices by the task force of the General Secretariat of INTERPOL is insufficient. Time and again that many applications are approved when it should have been immediately clear that a Red Notice should never have been issued
The system is based to a large extent on trust. Each member country pledges to comply with the applicable INTERPOL regulations. However, it regularly appears that a country clearly does not comply with the applicable INTERPOL regulations. A number of countries are regularly placed in the suspect's seat. INTERPOL may suspend the processing of requests from any country. However, INTERPOL does not sanction these countries.
On the basis of which the Qatari criminal suspicion and/or conviction is then established?
The basis for criminal prosecution and the convictions (in absentia) concerns the so-called ''security cheque'', which cheque one had to sign when entering into the loan. Every applicant for a loan facility must sign a so-called security cheque on the request of the Bank in countries such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. This course of action, signing an (un)dated security cheque, is unthinkable in most countries. The use of security cheques is now also controversial within the Arab world, but in Qatar it is still common practice.
The issuance of such a security cheques by Banks is controversial because it is an obvious fact that in case of presenting this cheque to the Bank, there are insufficient funds to balance this cheque. After all, otherwise there would have been no reason at all to borrow money from the Bank.
This state of affairs has now also been recognized by other Arab countries, such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE has decriminalized the bounced cheques cases which legislation has been implemented as of January 2022. However, Qatar has not yet decriminalized cases like this.
In situations such as this, debtors are prosecuted and sentenced (in absentia) on the basis of ''uttering an unfunded cheque'' ex Article 357 of the Qatari Criminal Code.
Although it should be clear that this case does not involve any criminal act/behavior and/or a criminal intention, it is unfortunately common practice in Qatar to issue Red Notices for these kind of debt-collection cases. Processing INTERPOL data in a case like this, a civil issue between bank en customer, is not in the interest of international police cooperation. These kind of cases aren’t serious ordinary-law crime cases.
The minimum requirements for issuing a Red Notice as stated in INTERPOL's Rules on the Processing of Data (RPD) cannot be met.
According to the applicable INTERPOL regulations, a Red Notice may not be issued in connection with conduct of pure civil nature. It is clear those involved didn’t have criminal intent when they signed the security cheque. During the period that they lived and worked in Qatar, they also fulfilled the payment obligations to the Bank.
It is also of great importance that the offence of “uttering an unfunded cheque” would probably not be recognized as an extraditable offence in many national systems, where the lack of dual criminality would prevent national authorities to act upon requests for police cooperation based on this offence.
A large number of INTERPOL’s member counties consider the inability to pay a debt or to fulfill a contractual obligation as a civil matter. The publication of red notices for the charges of “uttering unfunded cheques” may not lead in practice to actual international police cooperation.
Internationally accepted human rights principles
The following principles are, among other things, decisive
- According to Article 11 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, “no one shall be imprisoned merely on the ground of inability to fulfil a contractual obligation”, which would include debt.
- Article 14 of the Arab Charter of Human Rights states: ‘’No one shall be imprisoned for proven inability to repay a debt or another civil obligation’’.
- Furthermore, Fact Sheet No. 26 of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention states that “there are deprivations of liberty which are per se prohibited, such [as] imprisonment for debt”.
As explained, the method as used by Qatar and the Qatari Banks, the use of criminal legislation, travel-bans and INTERPOL alerts with the aim of debt-collection, is objectionable.
Result: The Commission of the Control of INTERPOL's Files decides again and again to delete these Qatari INTERPOL alerts
Our law firm handles a large number of these types of cases every year. The Commission for the Control of INTERPOL's Files (CCF) has ruled that the Red Notices should indeed be deleted in response to our detailed requests to delete the INTERPOL data. The aforementioned considerations are reflected in these decisions to delete the Red Notices.
However, we call on Qatar, the General Secretariat of INTERPOL and the Commission of the Control of INTERPOL's Files to put an immediate end to this serious misuse of Red Notices by Qatar.
Finally, a statement of support for football. We wish the football teams, but especially the football team from the Netherlands, every success during the upcoming World Cup in Qatar.
Bob Kaarls, The Hague, Netherlands, 6 November 2022
Specialists in Interpol cases
Our law firm offers an unique expertise in the removal of INTERPOL alerts. Our INTERPOL attorneys at law handle complex cases regarding red notices, diffusions, yellow notices, green notices and blue notices (see a few examples and media). If necessary, we cooperate with our worldwide international legal network.