French court investigates Interpol chief over torture claims

FILE- Inspector general at the United Arab Emirates interior ministry Maj. Gen. Ahmed Naser al-Raisi speaks on his cell phone during the first day of the Interpol annual assembly in Istanbul, Turkey, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. French investigative judges at the Paris Tribunal on Wednesday opened a probe into torture allegations against Interpol President Maj. Gen. Ahmed Nasser al-Raisi of the United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, File) (Francisco Seco, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

PARIS – French judges on Wednesday opened an investigation into torture allegations against Interpol President Maj. Gen. Ahmed Nasser al-Raisi of the United Arab Emirates.

Two British citizens, Matthew Hedges and Ali Issa Ahmad, who had both been detained in the UAE before al-Raisi was elected president of the France-based world police agency, on Wednesday gave evidence against him at the Paris Tribunal’s special unit for crimes against humanity and war crimes, their lawyers said.

The two Britons filed a criminal complaint against al-Raisi with the prosecutors of the Paris Tribunal in October under the principle of universal jurisdiction.

In January, they filed a criminal complaint directly with the tribunal's judges to open an investigation into claims against al-Raisi. The new Interpol president was on French territory at the time, visiting the international police agency’s headquarters in Lyon.

Al-Raisi was elected for a four-year term as Interpol president in November. He has been accused by human rights groups of involvement in torture and arbitrary detentions in the UAE.

The UAE has denied the allegations.

An Interpol spokesperson told The Associated Press in an email that the allegations against al-Raisi in France are part of an issue “between the parties involved,” and given that the investigation is ongoing “it would be premature for Interpol to comment.”

Hedges was a doctoral student in the UAE when he was imprisoned for nearly seven months in 2018 on spying charges. He said he was tortured and at times held in solitary confinement with no access to a lawyer.

Ahmad has said he was detained and tortured by UAE security agents during the 2019 Asian Cup soccer tournament he had attended in the Gulf country.

Al-Raisi was the general inspector in the UAE interior ministry at the time of the two Britons' detentions — a post he still holds in his country in addition to his leadership role in Interpol.

According to French law, “an open investigation could lead to al-Raisi’s detention for questioning while he is next on French territory,” said the Britons' international lawyer, Rodney Dixon.

In addition to France, Hedges and Ahmad over the past year jointly filed criminal complaints against al-Raisi in Norway, Sweden and Turkey. The Britons' lawyers have also filed separate civil proceedings against the UAE police and Interpol official in the United Kingdom.