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30 July 2012

INTERPOL's position on the nature and strength of evidence arising from the 11 April 2011 Minsk, Belarus terrorist metro bombing

Following the broadcast of a BBC documentary on Monday 30 July, which included an incomplete reference to INTERPOL’s position on the 11 April 2011 Minsk terrorist subway bombing in which 15 people were killed, INTERPOL is publishing its full statement and response which had been provided to the BBC in order to ensure that the public were fully informed as to all the facts.

It is regrettable that none of the information provided by INTERPOL about the nature and strength of evidence obtained during Belarus's criminal investigation into the Minsk terrorist metro bombing was included by the documentary maker, who preferred instead to rely solely on biased speculation.

In order to ensure that the public are given the opportunity to view and assess this evidence of guilt themselves INTERPOL is making its statement and CCTV footage from the investigation available, in addition to two documentaries on the Minsk terrorist metro bombing.

This statement also addresses the accusations leveled at both the Organization and its Secretary General Ronald K. Noble, all of which have proven unsubstantiated.

INTERPOL statement

I. Presumption of innocence of defendants should never be, and was not, breached in this case

It is well established around the world, from the United Kingdom to Belarus, and in each of INTERPOL’s 190 member countries that when crimes are committed, police collect and analyse evidence to identify the person(s) believed responsible so that they can be brought to trial. When police identify and arrest such persons, the police function of solving the case occurs. Thereafter, prosecutors must be satisfied that "there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction against each suspect on each charge”. A realistic prospect of conviction is an objective test based solely upon the prosecutor's assessment of the evidence and any information that they have about the defence that might be put forward by the suspect. It means that an objective, impartial and reasonable jury or bench of magistrates or judge hearing a case alone, properly directed and acting in accordance with the law, is more likely than not to convict the defendant of the charge alleged. This is a different test from the one that the criminal courts themselves must apply: “A court may only convict if it is sure that the defendant is guilty”: Code for Crown Prosecutors (UK).

Consistent with the above code that reflects the state of the law worldwide, on 24 July 2012, Alison Levitt, Principal Legal Advisor to the UK’s Director of Public Prosecutions, publicly stated, ‘there is sufficient evidence for there to be a realistic prospect of conviction,’ when she announced that Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, former editors of the News of the World newspaper in Britain, were among eight former News Corp. (NWSA) journalists being charged with conspiring to intercept communications (voice mail) without lawful authority.

Based on his review of the evidence gathered and analysed in the case of the 11 April 2011 Minsk terrorist subway bombing, Ronald K. Noble, who has served as INTERPOL Secretary General for more than 10 years, who is also a Professor of Law specializing in evidence law and who served as a former federal prosecutor in the US, concluded that the Belarusian criminal investigation was professionally conducted and that the arrests of Dmitry Konovalov and Vladislav Kovalev solved the case of who was criminally responsible for the bombing. He too believed there to be a realistic prospect of conviction in light of his and INTERPOL's review of the evidence against the two charged defendants. Secretary General Noble stands by that statement today.

Neither the principal legal adviser to the UK’s director of public prosecutions, nor INTERPOL’s Secretary General breached any defendant’s presumption of innocence by commenting at the evidentiary stage of the prosecution on the strength of the case against defendants charged with serious criminal conduct.

II. CCTV footage/forensic evidence

In reference to the CCTV footage from the investigation into the deadly terrorist attack on a Minsk subway on 11 April 2011 , it is not clear whether the journalist making the documentary saw any of the CCTV footage himself, or is relying on second-, third- or possibly fourth-hand information.

CCTV footage clearly shows one defendant, Dmitry Konovalov;

  • boarding the train to Minsk
  • arriving in Minsk carrying the same bag used in the attack
  • surveilling and practising the route the day before the attack
  • wearing the same jacket and hat on the day before and the day of the Minsk subway bombing (11 April)
  • being met at the Minsk subway by his co-defendant (Vladislav Kovalev) where both are seen carrying together the bag containing the bomb.
  • carrying the bag down the stairs on the day of the attack to the Oktiabrskaya platform where the bomb exploded
  • returning from the same platform without the bag
  • remaining above and close enough to the platform to see passengers exiting and boarding subway cars
  • doing something with his hand to detonate the bomb
  • walking up the stairs as the bomb explodes
  • leaving the subway station without the bag

The CCTV footage also shows the explosion followed by the vivid images of death, destruction and of panicked victims running from the scene.

In addition, Belarusian authorities collected and analysed other evidence including apartment rental records, phone records, clothing worn and materials used to make the bomb, as well as interviewing hundreds of witnesses.

The BBC documentary maker appears only too keen to believe individuals, including an opposition party member, who never examined the crime scene when they cast doubt on the composition of the bomb which killed 15 people. Since it is undisputed that 15 people were murdered and hundreds others injured when the terrorists' bomb exploded in the Minsk subway station on 11 April 2011, one could expect an objective documentary maker to ask any expert, "If you don't believe that metal chippings, balls, nuts, bolts and nails were in the terrorist bomb that blew up in the Oktiabrskaya subway station on 11 April 2011, then what do you believe were the contents of that deadly bomb?"

In addition to the filmed confessions of both defendants in the presence of their lawyers, the third person, Jana Pochitskaya, who was in their apartment with them for a few days, including before and after the 11 April 2011 terrorist bombing confirmed both defendants’ involvement in the terrorist attack.

III. Fingerprints and latent prints link 2008 and 2011 Minsk bombings

In 2008, Belarus provided INTERPOL with latent prints taken from an unexploded bomb following an attack in Minsk where another bomb, which did explode and injured more than 50 people.

In 2011, after the Minsk terrorist subway bombing and as part of the evidence collected, Belarus provided INTERPOL with fingerprints taken from Dmitry Konovalov which were entered into INTERPOL’s Automated Fingerprint Indexing System (AFIS) which contains more than 160,000 entries. INTERPOL's AFIS system identified the 2011 fingerprints as a match to the latent prints entered in 2008. Thereafter, two INTERPOL fingerprint experts independently verified that the 2008 latent prints identified by AFIS matched the fingerprints of Dmitry Konovalov.

IV. No INTERPOL Wanted Person’s (Red) Notice was ever issued for Belarusian Opposition leader

INTERPOL did not issue a Red Notice for Alaksiej Michalevic - a Belarussian opposition leader. Whilst such a request was received from Belarus, INTERPOL’s Office of Legal Affairs concluded that it was not in conformity with INTERPOL’s rules, notably Article 3 of INTERPOL’s Constitution under which it is ‘strictly forbidden for the Organization to undertake any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character’. The INTERPOL Red Notice was not published and all information relating to it was deleted from INTERPOL’s files in line with Article 3. INTERPOL takes this prohibition extremely seriously in maintaining its independence and neutrality, and Belarus never appealed INTERPOL's decision.

V. INTERPOL Passports can only be issued by INTERPOL and do not give the bearer any additional legal protection

None of INTERPOL’s 190 member countries can issue an INTERPOL passport. Only INTERPOL's General Secretariat Headquarters may issue INTERPOL passports. Any special visa status granted to INTERPOL passport holders is only valid if the bearer is in possession of a valid national passport and is invited by that country or INTERPOL to participate in an INTERPOL meeting/event or responding to a request for assistance by the country concerned. Even on those occasions INTERPOL member countries can still require INTERPOL passport holders to obtain visas prior to authorizing entry into the country.

VI. Unfounded attacks against INTERPOL

Personal attacks based on false and misleading statements about INTERPOL and its Secretary General serve no meaningful purpose. Each claim concerning INTERPOL advanced by the documentary maker and Belarusian opposition leaders in the case involving the 11 April 2011 Minsk terrorist subway bombing has been proven false.

The media should ensure that they are in possession of all the facts in order to report them objectively so that the public is fully and accurately informed. If one professes to defend and promote values such as respect for human rights, justice and the search for the truth, it could at least be expected that they abide by these same principles in their actions and reporting. Advancing one-sided false claims about murderous terrorist conduct can only undermine public confidence in the media. INTERPOL is therefore taking this opportunity to provide our responses to the false allegations and claims linked to INTERPOL's activities.