French anti-terror prosecutors have opened a preliminary inquiry into torture and acts of barbarism allegedly committed by Emirati General Ahmed Nasser Al-Raisi who in November became head of Interpol, judicial sources said on Thursday.
The probe follows a legal complaint by an NGO, which accused Raisi of torturing an opposition figure when he worked as a top official at the United Arab Emirates interior ministry.
Raisi is also one of a number of UAE officials facing legal action from Matthew Hedges, a British academic detained by Emirate authorities in 2018.
Mr. Hedges, then 31, said he was detained and tortured between May and November 2018 in the UAE after being arrested on false charges of espionage during a study trip.
He has previously described how he was questioned for up to 15 hours a day and forced to wear ankle cuffs during his imprisonment.
The Gulf Centre for Human rights (GCHR), which holds Raisi responsible for inhumane treatment of Ahmed Mansoor, an opponent of the Emirati government, lodged its complaint in January with the anti-terror prosecutors unit whose brief includes handling crimes against humanity.
Allegations of torture had already been levelled at Raisi by human rights organisations when he ran for president of Interpol saying they feared the agency would be at risk of exploitation by repressive regimes.
He was nevertheless voted in as president in November following generous funding from the UAE for the Lyon, France-based body.
There were also accusations that Abu Dhabi had abused Interpol’s system of so-called ‘red notices’ for wanted suspects to persecute political dissidents.
The probe against Raisi is being handled by the prosecution unit for crimes against humanity, genocide, and war crimes, the sources said.
William Bourdon, a high-profile lawyer acting for the GCHR, said it was ‘totally incomprehensible’ that the prosecutors had not immediately ordered Raisi’s arrest which, he said, ‘they should have done given that he is in France’.
The accusations were a sufficient motive to lift Raisa’s diplomatic immunity which he enjoys thanks to an agreement between the French state and Interpol, Bourdon said.
GCHR boss Khalid Ibrahim told AFP he had been interviewed by French police on March 18.
‘I told them the French Prosecutor is very slow in taking actions in relation to… very serious allegations of torture against General Ahmed Naser Al-Raisi.’
Two previous complaints against Raisi had been rejected on competency grounds by French prosecutors who said they could not prosecute unless the accused resided in France permanently or temporarily.
But in its latest filing, the NGO was able to show that Raisi was in Lyon in January and again in March, using his activity on Twitter as evidence.
Raisi was elected following three rounds of voting during which he received 68.9 percent of votes cast by Interpol member countries.
His four-year role at Interpol is largely ceremonial, with Secretary-General Juergen Stock handling day-to-day management of the organisation.