67 year old Tyneside resident Robert Urwin has been held in the Ukraine after HSBC in the UAE wrongfully placed him on Interpol over a cheque he never wrote.
It is simply incomprehensible that 67 year old British national Robert Urwin has been subjected to such horrendous treatment after leading international bank HSBC filed a criminal complaint in the UAE over a cheque that Urwin did not even have access to write.
Mr Urwin’s wife and 2 daughters have worked nonstop to explore all ways to resolve this, contacting MPs, The Foreign Office and Embassies to little avail and have had to endure terrible stress during this time and expressed their despair for their husband and dad’s situation, “For a bounced cheque it is unimaginable that he was sharing a cell with murderers and rapists and had to pay to have edible food”. His family are still working with the local MP and Foreign Office to try and resolve this; and his employer, ASP Ship Management of Australia, has been extremely supportive for Robert and his family throughout their ordeal.
HSBC is no stranger to controversy, having been previously criticised when their CEO said ”jailing debtors works ”. Despite public outrage, apparently no operational changes have been made. Gulf based banks have long misused Interpol’s database as a debt collection tool, and seemingly have the green light from Interpol who receives large donations from Gulf nations and has been long criticised for corrupt practices.
Urwin travelled to the Ukraine on behalf of his employer when he was arrested on arrival and thrown into prison on the basis of the Interpol Notice. Urwin had no idea what he could possibly have been arrested for “I was detained in Ukraine for 40 days, in deplorable conditions where I was subjected to threats of violence by inmates and guards trying to extort money on a daily basis. During this time, the UAE should have sent an extradition request but after 40 days, they still hadn’t bothered”.
Urwin was released after 45 days in detention, and usually at this point, if the UAE failed to comply with extradition procedures, permission would be granted to return home. However, the Ukraine refused to allow Urwin to leave until the Interpol Red Notice itself was cancelled, even though extradition proceedings had been concluded in his favour. Interpol though, does not automatically remove notices when an extradition request is won by the subject and thus, Detained in Dubai submitted removal requests to Interpol’s headquarters in Lyon. Interpol allows themselves up to nine months (or more) to process removal requests.
Detained in Dubai has been coordinating with the office of Urwin’s MP, Emma Lewell-Buck, who have sent letters to the Foreign Secretary, the Ukrainian Consulate in London, and the British Consulate in the Ukraine, to follow up.
The cheque in question, for the amount of AED 173,000 was written and submitted for payment at a time when Urwin was not even in the country, and Mr. Urwin appears to be the victim of identity theft and fraud. “Robert had left the UAE in good standing,” said Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai. “The cheque appears to have been written by someone else; which is entirely plausible in a country where blank cheques are demanded regularly by landlords and creditors. He had no knowledge of this cheque, and no knowledge of any court case. Ukrainian authorities have already rejected the Red Notice, and essentially, only HSBC is keeping him in prison. They could withdraw the Red Notice today and Robert could finally go home. We have submitted a request to Interpol to remove the Notice, but Interpol works very slowly, and there are a multitude of inappropriate Red Notices on their books which are being challenged; so unless HSBC withdraws the Notice request from Interpol, Robert could remain wrongfully detained for several more months or more.”
Stirling has been a leading voice for Interpol reform, calling for greater transparency and implementation of a filtering process by which Interpol could avoid abusively filed Red Notice requests which violate the organisation’s stated protocols. She has recently established a new organisation dedicated to Interpol and extradition reform called IPEX. “Financial cases and civil disputes are not eligible for Interpol listings according to their own rules, but there is no scrutiny when a request for a Notice is made; Interpol just accepts the requests and lists the names they have been given, regardless of whether or not the alleged crime falls under Interpol’s mandate. It is left to individuals who have been wrongly listed to appeal for the removal of their names from Interpol’s database, though Interpol should never have listed them. It is very disturbing to see that the Interpol abuse we have commonly associated with authoritarian governments now being perpetrated by a major international bank like HSBC. But Interpol has failed to check abuses, and has taken no steps to ensure that their system operates effectively; this has apparently caused private sector players to now feel emboldened to engage in the same type of abuse; using Interpol as an instrument for debt collection.”
Stirling commented, “Robert is being detained after having suffered months of incarceration, and an extradition hearing he already won. Practically speaking, he is not being detained by Ukrainian
authorities, he is being detained by HSBC by means of Interpol. That is not what Interpol is supposed to do, it is not what Interpol is supposed to be. It is an extremely dangerous development if Interpol is now going to operate as an enforcer for the banks.”
Radha Stirling, is founder and CEO of UK / USA based legal and human rights organisation Detained in Dubai, Expert Witness and respected analyst of Middle East Policy.
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