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Interpol red notice: what it means and why South Africa requested it

 A man wearing a jacket and shirt with an open collar raises his fore and index fingers as he speaks at a press conference. Another man to his left, wearing a jacket and a tie, has both hands on a table.
Ajay, right, and Atul Gupta are on the run from the law in South Africa. Their sibling Rajesh is wanted on fraud and money laundering along with Atul. Pic: Martin Rhodes. 02/03/2011. © Business Day

The brothers Atul and Rajesh Gupta have been arrested in the United Arab Emirates. They are accused in South Africa of profiting from their close links with former president Jacob Zuma and exerting unfair influence. Their arrests follow the issuing of a red notice by International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol) at the beginning of March 2022. This paved the way for their arrest to face fraud and money laundering charges in South Africa. At the height of their activities in South Africa they owned a business empire spanning computer equipment, media, and mining. A judicial commission of inquiry into state capture recently found that the brothers, who are in their 40s, orchestrated massive corruption with Zuma’s help. Thabo Leshilo asked Bernadine Benson to explain.

What is Interpol, and what does it do?

Interpol is an inter-governmental organisation, aiming to help connect police agencies across the globe. It’s headquartered in Lyon, France. Its primary purpose is to create a framework that enables policing and other law enforcement agencies across the globe to work together. These agencies can share information on crime, criminals and criminal activities through an advanced secure e-communications system.

Currently, the three primary crime programmes considered a global priority are counter terrorism, organised and emerging crime and cybercrime. All Interpol actions are bound by the law of the country it may be assisting and are politically neutral.

Who belongs to Interpol and what’s its jurisdiction?

Interpol has 195 member countries, including South Africa. At the click of a button a country can reach out to the network and get assistance on transnational crime, criminals and other criminal threats from other members countries. The Command and Coordination Centre , its nerve centre, provides a 24-hour support service.

Read more: State capture in South Africa: how the rot set in and how the project was rumbled

The four official languages used by Interpol are Arabic, English, French and Spanish.

Each member country has a National Central Bureau which is the point of contact between it and the General Secretariat, in Lyon. These bureaus are staffed by the police officials of that country. They usually fall under the governmental department responsible for policing.

What is a red notice? Are there others?

Interpol uses a notice system to facilitate the speedy and effective transfer of time-sensitive information. Their international notices are colour-coded: red, blue, green, yellow, black, orange, and purple.

A red notice is issued when a member country seeks assistance to locate and arrest an individual with the aim of having them extradited to face a criminal charge. The notice will only be issued if a valid warrant of arrest has been issued for the person in the requesting country. The other notices are:

  • Blue: to locate, identify, or gather information on a person of interest in a criminal matter.

  • Green: warn member countries of possible threats posed by criminal activities.

  • Yellow: to seek to either identify a person who is unable to identify themselves (such as a mentally challenged person who appears to be from another country), or to find a missing person.

  • Black: when information is sought on unidentified bodies.

  • Orange: when an event, person, object or a process could pose a threat to the property or lives of people.

  • Purple: when information on hiding places, objects, devices or modus operandi of criminals are to be shared with member countries.

In addition to these colour notices, Interpol can also issue a United Nations Security Council Special Notice to inform member countries when the UN has activated sanctions against an individual or an entity.

The last type of notice are the “diffusion notices”. They are like the colour-coded notices, except they are sent directly to a specific country or selection of countries by the member country.

Has something like this happened before?

South Africa has previously requested the extradition of wanted fugitives. A well-known example is the extradition of Shrien Dewani in April 2014 from Britain to be tried for for his alleged involvement in the 2010 murder of his wife, Anni Dewani while on honeymoon in Cape Town. He was eventually tried and acquitted in December of that year.

More recently, South Africa requested the extradition of self-proclaimed prophet Shepherd Bushiri and his wife from Malawi to face money laundering and other charges in South Africa.

A red notice has been issued: what now?

The issuing of an Interpol red notice is a process that can be seen to run parallel with the extradition process. The red notice is not an ‘international warrant of arrest’. But it will make international travel difficult for the person for whom the notice has been issued.

The red notice is a forerunner for initiating a formal request for their extradition to stand trial in South Africa.

Read more: State capture report chronicles extent of corruption in South Africa. But will action follow?

In June 2021, the Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services announced the

finalisation and ratification of the treaties on extradition and mutual legal assistance between South Africa and the UAE.

This paved the way for South Africa to start the extradition request for the two Gupta brothers, who ostensibly fled to the UAE to avoid prosecution in South Africa for massive corruption.

Extradition is often a time consuming and drawn-out process consisting of complicated legal steps. The outcome of such an extradition request, however, will be determined in a court of law.

This story was updated following the arrest of Atul and Rajesh Gupta in the United Arab Emirates.

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