PARIS (Reuters) -French prosecutors have opened an investigation into global police agency Interpol president Ahmed Nasser Al-Raisi over allegations that he may have been an accomplice to torture, accusations which an Emirati statement said were baseless.
Raisi was appointed president of Interpol, which is headquartered in France, in November 2021 despite accusations from rights groups that he had failed to act on allegations of torture of detainees in the UAE.
An investigative judge has been appointed to look into the case and determine whether to indict Raisi after a preliminary investigation began in March, an official at the office of the Paris anti-terrorism prosecutor said.
He confirmed a report by news agency AFP that the probe was launched on the basis of universal jurisdiction following complaints by British nationals Matthew Hedges and Ali Issa Ahmad.
Raisi is inspector general at the United Arab Emirates’ Ministry of the Interior, which said in a statement to Reuters the allegations against him were “without merit”.
“Raisi’s role within the Ministry of Interior has, for the last two decades of a forty-year career, been focused on modernisation, technological advancements, and international cooperation,” the statement said.
“His role has not entailed oversight of prisons or prisoners, and he, and the UAE, categorically reject the utterly baseless and unfounded accusations being made against him by these complainants.”
An Interpol spokesperson said: “In relation to the allegations relating to Mr Al-Raisi, this is an issue between the parties involved, and given this is an ongoing matter it would be premature for Interpol to comment.”
Interpol said the role of president was an unpaid and part-time post, with the president remaining a full-time official in his own country.
Hedges, an academic at the University of Exeter, told Reuters in 2021 he had been held in solitary confinement for seven months in 2018 in the UAE over allegations of espionage when he went to the country do to research for his doctorate.
He said he was threatened with physical violence and harm to his family by Emirati security services within a building that Raisi had responsibility for.
The UAE has said Hedges was not subjected to any physical or psychological mistreatment during his detention.
Ali Issa Ahmad told Reuters in 2021 he was detained during a holiday when he went to UAE to watch the Asian Cup in 2019 because he wore a T-shirt with a Qatar flag, at a time when there was a diplomatic row between the two countries.
He said he was electrocuted, beaten and deprived of food, water and sleep on several days during his detention.
Human Rights Watch has said hundreds of activists, academics and lawyers are serving lengthy sentences in UAE jails, often following unfair trials on vague and broad charges. The UAE has said those accusations are false and unsubstantiated.
(Reporting by Tassilo Hummel and Geert De Clercq; Additional reporting by Lisa Barrington;Editing by Ingrid Melander, Alexandra Hudson and Alison Williams)