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HOME > Publications > Professional Articles > What's it like being chased internationally with a red notice?

What's it like being chased internationally with a red notice?


With the rise of international exchanges in people-to-people, economic, and technological realms, cross-border crime has become a pressing issue. This involves conflicts of criminal jurisdiction across different territories, the application of international criminal law, and the fight against transnational crime through international cooperation. According to reports, the 'Fox Hunt Office' led police from public security organs around the world in the 'Fox Hunt 2023' special operation. They established over 30 working groups and arrested a total of 1,255 suspects of various types of fugitive economic crimes in more than 20 countries worldwide. On 19 March 2024, the Office of International Fugitive Recovery and Cross-border Corruption Control of the Central Anti-Corruption Coordination Group held a meeting to discuss and plan the work of international fugitive recovery and cross-border corruption control for 2024. They also launched the 'Skynet 2024' operation. Among them, the National Supervisory Commission led a special operation on international fugitive recovery for job-related crimes. The Ministry of Public Security carried out a special operation on 'Fox Hunting'. The People's Bank of China, in conjunction with the Ministry of Public Security, carried out a special operation on the prevention and crackdown of the use of offshore corporations and underground moneylenders for the transfer of stolen funds abroad.The Supreme People's Court, in conjunction with the Supreme People's Procuratorate, has launched a special operation to recover stolen goods in cases where criminal suspects and defendants have fled and died, and the Central Organisation Department, in conjunction with the Ministry of Public Security, has launched a special operation to control irregularities in the handling and possession of documents. Among these special operations, the "Red Notice" for fugitives to be arrested and extradited, so called because of the red Interpol emblem in the upper left-hand corner of the notice, is the highest level of urgent and expeditious wanted notice.

I. What is a red notice

Red Notice is issued by Interpol is a kind of international notification, used for worldwide pursuit and temporary arrest of specific fugitives. It is Interpol's most well-known form of notification, and is usually used to pursue individuals suspected of serious crimes such as murder, kidnapping, drug trafficking, corruption, fraud, etc. As of now, Interpol has 196 member countries, including major countries such as China, the United States and Germany.[1] In China, the issuing agency of the Red Notice is the National Central Bureau of Interpol China.In April 2015, the National Central Bureau of Interpol China centrally announced the Red Notice for 100 fugitives suspected of committing crimes. Since then, the pursuit of "100 red pass personnel" has become a highlight of China's overseas pursuit of fugitives, by all walks of life wide attention .[2]

Red Notices contain detailed information about the wanted person, such as name, gender, date of birth, nationality, offences involved, photograph, fingerprints, and other relevant information that can help identify and locate the individual. Once issued, a Red Notice is sent to all INTERPOL member countries requesting them to take action in their respective jurisdictions to assist in locating and arresting the fugitive.

It is important to note that a Red Notice is not an arrest warrant, but rather a notification requesting the assistance of national law enforcement agencies. Upon receipt of a red notice, member States decide whether to take action in accordance with their own legal procedures and international obligations. In some cases, if the fugitive is located in the territory of that State, that State may carry out a provisional arrest and extradition proceedings under bilateral or multilateral treaties.

Red Notices are an important tool for international criminal cooperation, helping national law enforcement agencies to strengthen the fight against transnational crime and to promote the enforcement of global law and the achievement of justice.

II.The process of issuing red notices

The process of issuing a Red Notice involves Interpol issuing a warrant to a member country, which then applies its own laws to decide whether or not to arrest the wanted person. Interpol cannot compel the law enforcement authorities of any country to arrest the subject of a Red Notice. Each member country decides for itself the legal value to be accorded to a red notice and the power of law enforcement officials to make an arrest. The process of issuing Red Notices involves INTERPOL member countries and Central Bureaux, and the specific steps for issuing them are set out below:

(i) Making a request: A request for the issuance of a Red Notice is usually made to INTERPOL by the law enforcement agency of a member country. The requesting country is required to provide sufficient legal documentation and evidence that the wanted person is suspected of having committed a serious offence and that international assistance is required to make the arrest.

(ii) Review of the request: Upon receipt of the request, INTERPOL's Central Bureau conducts an initial review to ensure that the request complies with INTERPOL's regulations and standards, and that the information provided is accurate.

(iii) Legal and procedural review: INTERPOL conducts a legal and procedural review of the request to ensure that it complies with international law and the INTERPOL Charter. In addition, some countries will also review whether there are issues of a political, military or religious nature, as INTERPOL generally does not get involved in such issues.

(iv) Issuance of a Red Notice: If the request meets all the requirements, INTERPOL will authorise the issuance of a Red Notice. The Warrant will contain detailed information about the person wanted, such as name, photograph, description of the offence, etc.

(v) Notification to member countries: As soon as a Red Notice is issued, INTERPOL sends it to the law enforcement agencies of all member countries. The information is also updated in the INTERPOL database so that it can be accessed by law enforcement officials worldwide.

(vi) Action by member countries: Member countries receiving a red notice will decide whether to take action in accordance with their own laws and procedures. If the wanted person is located in the territory of that country, the law enforcement agencies of that country may carry out the arrest and subsequent extradition proceedings under bilateral or multilateral treaties to face the corresponding criminal charges.

III. Does being a Red Notice fugitive mean that you will definitely be repatriated by the host country?

This question needs to be analysed specifically, being on a Red Notice does not mean that the suspect will definitely be repatriated. Red Notices are issued for the purpose of searching for and temporarily arresting criminal suspects worldwide, but they do not in themselves determine the process of repatriation. Repatriation (or extradition) is a complex legal process that is influenced by a number of factors, including:

(i) Bilateral or multilateral extradition treaties

Extradition is a request to the State in which the person involved in the case has fled to surrender the person suspected of having committed an offence to that State for prosecution and punishment, on the basis of a bilateral or multilateral treaty or on the basis of reciprocity. Extradition is subject to strict legal procedures and qualifications, and in addition to administrative cooperation between the two countries, it is generally subject to the prior approval of the judicial procedures of the requested country. In the case of Yao Jinqi, the first person to be extradited after the establishment of China's National Supervisory Commission (former executive vice mayor of Xinchang County, Zhejiang Province, who fled in December 2005), who was suspected of accepting bribes, Interpol issued a red notice on Yao Jinqi on 3 October 2018. On 17 October, Bulgarian police arrested Yao Jinqi on the basis of the notice. On 26 November, the Sofia District Court of Bulgaria ruled that it agreed to extradite Yao Jinqi to China on the basis of a bilateral extradition treaty signed between China and Bulgaria in 1996 .[3]

The existence of an extradition treaty or convention between two countries is a prerequisite for the use of extradition to pursue and repatriate criminal suspects. Up to now, more than 40 sovereign countries around the world have signed extradition treaties with China, but still have not yet signed extradition treaties with the United States, Germany, Sweden and other countries, so the way of extradition is still geographically limited.[4]

(ii) Repatriation Procedures - De Facto Extradition

When there is a violation of the provisions of a country's domestic immigration laws, such as illegal entry, illegal residence, illegal immigration, etc., the competent authorities of that country may deprive the person of his or her residence status and return him or her to his or her country of origin or to a third country. The application of such repatriation does not presuppose the existence of a treaty relationship between the two countries and is within the discretion of the host country. Irrespective of the will of the host State, return objectively produces the same result as extradition and is therefore also known as de facto extradition. The characteristics of the return procedure are that it is not a criminal procedure, it is not inherently punitive, and the return procedure "is subject only to administrative review and is not subject to cumbersome judicial procedures." Therefore, in countries with which we do not have bilateral extradition treaties, the application of return through immigration law is also an extremely important measure for the pursuit of fugitives. Generally speaking, repatriation is sufficient to prove that the suspect does not have legal residence status and that he or she has illegally left the country where the offence was committed or the country of which he or she is a national, and it is not necessary to prove the fact that the suspect committed an offence in his or her own country prior to his or her flight. For example, in the case of Xu Chaofan, the former head of Bank of China Guangdong Kaiping Sub-branch, suspected of embezzlement and misappropriation of public funds, Xu Chaofan fled to the United States in 2003, and he was sentenced by the United States to a repatriation order to be forcibly repatriated back to China in July 2018 .[5]

IV.Are there no other means of investigating or pursuing persons on red notices who cannot be extradited or repatriated?

The answer is of course no. There are many more ways and means, which are only partially described here.

(I) Persuasion to return

The persuasion of return is to prompt the fugitives to return to China voluntarily to accept treatment through the appeal of laws and policies. For example, Yan Yongming, the former chairman of Jilin Tonghua Golden Horse Pharmaceutical Company, was persuaded to return to China from New Zealand to surrender in 2016 .[6]

(ii) Other INTERPOL notices: In addition to red notices, INTERPOL has issued other types of notices, such as blue notices (requests to locate or locate persons) and green notices (requests for information on the identity, address, etc., of suspects), which can be used to assist in the pursuit of fugitives.

(iii) International tribunals: Under certain circumstances, the requesting State may refer the case to an international tribunal or human rights body to seek support and pressure from the international community.

(iv) off-site Prosecution

Prosecution in a different place usually refers to the provision of evidence by the requesting State to assist the requested State in prosecuting the fugitive on the basis of its own law (meaning the requested State).When China is unable to exercise jurisdiction over cases involving fugitives because of objective obstacles, it is also able to convict and punish its fugitives by supporting the country where they have fled, in accordance with its own national laws and the evidence provided and handed over by China.For example, Xu Chaofan, the former head of the Kaiping Sub-branch of the Bank of China in Guangdong Province, as mentioned above, was convicted and sentenced to 25 years' imprisonment by a United States court in 2009 on the basis of a large amount of evidence and materials provided by our country, and since then has been detained in the United States until 2018, when he was repatriated after a repatriation order was issued in accordance with the United States' judicial procedures.

(v) Trial in absentia

On 26 October 2018, the Sixth Session of the Standing Committee of the Thirteenth National People's Congress adopted a decision on amending the Criminal Procedure Law of the People's Republic of China, adding a special chapter on "Trial in Absentia Procedures", which makes systematic provisions on the scope and procedures of trial in absentia cases, as well as safeguards for the rights of defendants. Trial in absentia has become another powerful legal weapon in the international pursuit of fugitives in the fight against corruption, following the amendment of the Criminal Procedure Law in 2012 to include procedures for the confiscation of unlawful proceeds. Among the 41 extradition treaties in force between China and other countries, 22 treaties have conditionally recognised trials in absentia, i.e., they undertake to guarantee the guarantees of the right to a retrial or appeal in the event that the person whose extradition is requested applies to appear in court after extradition.

Following the reform of the State supervisory system, the supervisory authorities have become the host authorities for cases of fugitive and recovered property in respect of job-related offences. Unlike the confiscation of proceeds of offences, which is also a special procedure, the proposed application of trial in absentia procedures by local supervisory authorities must first be reported to the NCA for consent. Cases to which the trial in absentia procedure applies must be cases in which sufficient efforts have been made to track down the fugitive, but the defendant is really unable to appear at the trial due to subjective and objective reasons, and the evidence that has been obtained can exclude reasonable doubt about the pursuit and recovery of the stolen goods. Prior to the commencement of the trial, the trial authority must also serve the defendant with a summons and a copy of the indictment in strict accordance with the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Law. On 9 December 2021, the embezzlement case of Cheng Sanchang, one of the "100 Red Notice persons" who had been absconding abroad for 20 years, became the "first case" of criminal trial in absentia, which was openly heard in the Intermediate People's Court of Zhengzhou City, Henan Province. Cheng Sanchang use as Yu port (group) limited company chairman of the position of convenience, illegal possession of public funds equivalent to a total of more than 3,088,800 yuan. Zhengzhou Intermediate People's Court in accordance with the law will be the summons and copies of the indictment sent to Cheng Sanchang himself.[7]

However, as a system of timely and negative legal evaluation of fugitive criminals, in absentia judgement has only completed the transformation of "fugitive criminal suspect - fugitive criminal" at the domestic law level. Judgements in absentia also depend on recognition by the requested State, and there may be some obstacles to the mutual recognition and enforcement of judgements at the international level. In addition to the proper service of documents, the standardised application of rules of evidence and the safeguarding of the rights of the accused in the process of trial in absentia, it also relies on the existence of a certain basis for extradition cooperation with the requested State. In countries such as the United States and the Netherlands, which strictly adhere to the doctrine of pre-treaty, it is difficult to give effect to the role of judgements in absentia through the extradition system.(Interns Yujie Xiong and Shiwen Wang also assisted in the search and translation.)


[1] Data from https://www.interpol.int/en.

[2] Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), A Chart to Read:List of 100 Fugitives on the Red Notice, http://m.ccdi.gov.cn/content/df/a2/2852.html?eqid=86a5340b000006cb00000004647ea70d, accessed March 24, 2024

[3] Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, National Supervisory Commission, Leniency and Severity Warns of Lost Ways Yao Jinqi Gets Light Sentence for Actively Cooperating and Voluntarily Returning Stolen Goods, https://www.ccdi.gov.cn/yaowen/202008/t20200828_224539.html, accessed March 24, 2024

[4] Guo Zhe. Rule of Law Governance of International Fugitive Recovery in Big Data [J]. Contemporary Law, 2023, 37 (02): 136-147.

[5] China Discipline Inspection and Monitoring, After 17 years, the pursuit of fugitives never stops - Behind Xu Chaofan's forced repatriation, https://www.ccdi.gov.cn/toutiao/201807/t20180711_175462.html, accessed March 24, 2024Day.

[6] China Discipline Inspection and Supervision, Behind the Man and the Stolen Goods - A Chronicle of the Return of the "Hundred Red-Tongued Personnel" Yan Yongming, https://zgjjjc.ccdi.gov.cn/bqml/bqxx/201708/t20170821_105028.html, accessed March 24, 2024

[7] China Discipline Inspection and Monitoring, China's "First Criminal Trial in Absentia" Cheng Sanchang's Embezzlement Case Sentenced in First Instance, https://www.ccdi.gov.cn/yaowenn/202201/t20220117_165121_m.html, accessed March 2024March 24, 2024.