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09 julio 2010

INTERPOL – At the centre of security for the 2010 FIFA World Cup

As one phone crashes down in the Uruguay police booth at South Africa’s International Police Co-ordination Centre (IPCC) in Pretoria, another is snatched up in the nearby INTERPOL booth where staff launch into animated dialogue with colleagues at the INTERPOL Regional Bureau in Harare about two illegal immigration suspects who have just been detained on the Zimbabwe-South Africa border.

The centre of police co-operation surrounding the FIFA World Cup 2010 in South Africa, the IPCC is where police officers from the 32 participating countries can liaise not only with their national administrations but also with INTERPOL’s Major Events Support Team (IMEST) and the South African Police Services (SAPS).

Liaising closely with INTERPOL’s National Central Bureau (NCB) in Pretoria and composed of experienced specialised police officers and operational assistants, INTERPOL’s IMEST team – totalling 50 members - was in place across South Africa well ahead of the opening of the World Cup. Its objective? To help secure the event. How? By making critical data on wanted criminals, stolen travel documents and stolen motor vehicles accessible to the event’s key security players across the country.

Deployed to six key strategic areas – including international airports and road border crossings - in addition to the main IPCC unit, INTERPOL staff assisted local law enforcement officers secure their country’s borders by giving them hands-on access to INTERPOL’s police services throughout the FIFA World Cup 2010 in South Africa.

Animated conversations resume within the INTERPOL booth as the IMEST team at the Beit Bridge Border Crossing – one of the mobile INTERPOL teams in the field – requests that INTERPOL’s General Secretariat Headquarters’ Command and Co-ordination Centre (CCC) contact five INTERPOL National Central Bureaus (NCBs) to urgently seek more information on the two suspects caught using fraudulent passports.  IMEST staff hurry to their desks and vigorous typing can be heard as messages are sent to police around the world via INTERPOL's secure network.

Addressing critical security challenges

One of the gravest threats for major events is terrorists and other international criminals using falsified, stolen or lost passports to conceal their identities and enter the country to perpetrate their crimes.

The 2010 FIFA World Cup is the most-watched sporting event in the world, making it a perfect stage for terrorists to send negative and disturbing messages to a far-reaching audience.

Running from 11 June to 11 July, the FIFA World Cup 2010 drew 32 football teams and accompanying sports staff, thousands of journalists and more than one million spectators to South Africa, making it an enticing target for terrorists wishing to exploit the worldwide media opportunity.

“The FIFA World Cup is not just a South African event. From a security perspective, it’s an international event, with all the security risks that entails,” commented Jean-Michel Louboutin, INTERPOL’s Executive Director for Police Services, deployed to South Africa to ensure INTERPOL was providing maximum assistance to local security services.

“The safety and security of players, spectators and all those involved in the 2010 FIFA World Cup is INTERPOL's top priority right now, which is why we are working closely with SAPS and FIFA in making Africa’s first ever World Cup secure and successful” he added.

To address the threat of terrorism and other cross-border crime, INTERPOL’s objective is to make sure that cutting-edge policing tools are accessible and at the ready across the country, strategically placed in the hands of the field officers who need to identify potential security threats.

INTERPOL support in the field

Securing ports of entry

Six mobile IMEST teams were deployed to the principal ports of entry to South Africa, providing law enforcement officers there with access to INTERPOL databases to help them detect potential threats of terrorism, hooliganism and serious crime:

  • Johannesburg Airport
  • Lanseria Airport 
  • Cape-Town Airport 
  • Durban Airport 
  • Lebombo Border Crossing (border crossing with Mozambique)
  • Beit Bridge Border Crossing (border crossing with Zimbabwe)

Together the teams conducted nearly 600,000 on-the-spot checks against INTERPOL’s databases which contain data on more than 7 million motor vehicles, nearly 22 million stolen or lost travel documents and more than 63,000 wanted persons.

Through hands-on connection to I-24/7 - INTERPOL’s global police communications system – IMEST staff had instant, direct access not only to INTERPOL’s databases but also the secure INTERPOL network enabling the exchange of urgent messages and vital police data such as fingerprints, images and wanted persons notices with any of INTERPOL’s 188 member countries.

International airports: key strategic locations to detect potential criminals

One of the six mobile IMEST teams was dispatched to South Africa’s largest international airport in Johannesburg to assist local law enforcement in checking the identities of the hundreds of travellers pouring into South Africa on the 180 international flights which land at Johannesburg airport every day.

With direct access to the INTERPOL Batch Search Web Service (IBSWS) – known as I-BATCH – IMEST staff processed and checked thousands of identity details for targeted flights. One particular case enabled the SAPS to identify a South American traveller as a known hooligan with a violent criminal history. He was refused entry to South Africa and returned to his home country.

Beit Bridge Border Crossing

One of South Africa’s busiest border posts and one of the only points to offer direct road access between Zimbabwe and South Africa, Beit Bridge Border Crossing handles roughly 1,000 light vehicles and between 600 and a 1,000 trucks daily. It is also believed to be a route for vehicles stolen from South Africa and bound for markets in Eastern Africa and Europe, and for illegal immigration into South Africa.  This was therefore a key site for an INTERPOL IMEST mobile team.

Three IMEST police officers detached from INTERPOL’s Regional Bureaus in Yaoundé, Nairobi and Abidjan for the duration of the World Cup, were posted to Beit Bridge Border Crossing to ensure local law enforcement officials had the support they needed. More than 6,300 checks were made against INTERPOL databases by the Beit Bridge IMEST team, permitting them make international connections in a number of cases and liaise with INTERPOL NCBs in different parts of the world, supported by the CCC.

In one instance, two Pakistani men were stopped as they tried to enter South Africa through the Beit Bridge crossing on a bus. They claimed to be travelling to attend the World Cup yet were in possession of no tickets for any of the matches. Their identity documents did not match the identities suggested by other documents in their possession. As the Zimbabwe Police investigated this suspected case of illegal immigration, INTERPOL’s Regional Bureau in Harare was able to alert the law enforcement agencies in five member countries in an effort to ascertain their true identity and have their fingerprints checked. The investigation is on-going.

Multi-faceted police assistance

IMEST staff are torn from their concentrated focus on the screen of INTERPOL's database and secure network dashboard by the phone hotline. The intense pace picks up again as news spreads that Congolese national Moumba Munanga – the subject of INTERPOL's “Infra Red” operation targeting 450 fugitives worldwide convicted for  committing serious offences – and wanted by INTERPOL France and Bahrain for counterfeit currency, forgery and money laundering, has been detected by INTERPOL databases at one of the international airports.  Voices spring from booth to booth confirming the hit on INTERPOL databases and the arrest by SAPS police, marking another success for joint INTERPOL-SAPS security action.

Supporting national investigations

The IMEST team was able to support SAPS investigations into a suspected fraudulent passport production and selling network operating from the South African capital with clients across the globe.  When SAPS arrested 21 Pakistani nationals for distributing fraudulent ID documents, INTERPOL’s IMEST team immediately ensured their photographs and fingerprints were compared with the INTERPOL General Secretariat databases and also shared with the INTERPOL National Central Bureau in Islamabad. INTERPOL provided SAPS with the international outreach it needed to investigate this case of serious crime beyond its own borders.   Investigations continue.

Beyond the South African borders

Demonstrating the strength of national, regional and international police co-operation in securing the World Cup, and testimony to INTERPOL's resolve to secure the football event from all angles, is the success of operation SOGA III, carried out by INTERPOL's liaison office in Bangkok and timed to coincide with the World Cup.

Co-ordinated with China (including Hong Kong and Macao), Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand and aimed at breaking up illegal soccer gambling networks operating within these countries, the results speak for themselves: as at 9 July 2010, over 3,300 arrests across Asia and the seizure of over 144 million US dollars in betting records in addition to USD$ 1.8 million in cash.

Co-operation key to closing in on criminals

It is through strong police co-operation that the law enforcement community at large was able to help SAPS make the 2010 FIFA World Cup as safe and secure as it was. Information sharing and communication - both within South Africa and globally - is the most effective and efficient means of securing major events, transforming borders seen as opportunities by criminals, into obstacles against organized crime.

A clear indication of the strength of SAPS-INTERPOL mutual commitment to 2010 FIFA World Cup security, SAPS National Commissioner Bheki Cele travelled to the General Secretariat headquarters in France one month prior to the opening of the World Cup to be updated on INTERPOL’s ongoing preparations to support national security for the tournament.

Two months earlier, FIFA hosted a security-themed meeting at its headquarters in Zurich – the first of its kind in FIFA’s history – bringing together INTERPOL, Chiefs of Police, Heads of Security and police liaison officers from all 32 participating nations, providing a vital opportunity to share a comprehensive planning approach and co-ordination of security.

An excellent example of the power of police co-operation in international investigations and operations, INTERPOL’s IMEST team in South Africa enjoyed outstanding collaboration from SAPS (detectives unit, crime intelligence, and special investigation units), police liaison officers from the 32 participant countries and representatives of the Southern Africa Regional Police Chiefs Co-operation Organisation (SARPCCO), in addition to FIFA staff.

“From what I have seen, FIFA has spared no efforts to make clear the priority it places on supporting the South African Police Service’s and INTERPOL’s efforts to ensure security for teams, visitors and the general public during the World Cup" commented INTERPOL’s Secretary General Ronald K. Noble in a media release circulated internationally on 12 May 2010.

INTERPOL support : a vital security component

This seven-week long IMEST was INTERPOL largest ever deployment, involving 50 people in the field and the 24-hour assistance of staff working with them from the General Secretariat headquarters in Lyon.

Their collective efforts served to assist SAPS secure its country and 2010 FIFA World Cup fans by making sure only genuine spectators and tourists were granted access to the country, and potential threats thwarted.

Contributing to the safety and security of spectators, teams, officials, and residents of any country which hosts an international event, is a strong priority for the world’s largest police organization.  INTERPOL has provided assistance for a wide range of major events across the globe, including the Vancouver Winter Olympics earlier this year, Beijing Olympics, the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany and the 2007 Cricket World Cup hosted across nine countries in the Caribbean.  

The organization will continue to provide operational support in the field to assist member countries who host major events of this kind.  Further IMEST deployments are already being planned for the forthcoming 65th Session of the United General Assembly in New York, and for the Asian Games taking place in November in Guangzhou, China and with each IMEST deployment, behind it is the strength of police co-operation across 188 member countries.