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Interpol and FBI break up a cyber scheme in Moldova to get asylum for wanted criminals

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PARIS (AP) — A multinational operation by Interpol and the FBI cracked down on attempts in Moldova to sabotage one of the international police agency’s key tools, the Red Notice system, officials said Tuesday. Four people were detained in the eastern European country.

The joint sting, which also involved cooperation with French and British authorities, uncovered an international criminal organization with ties to individuals in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus suspected of cybercrime, Moldova’s anticorruption chief said.

The suspected individuals “paid intermediaries and public figures in Moldova to inform wanted criminals of (their) Red Notice status,” Veronica Dragalin, the anticorruption chief, told reporter.

The notice flags people deemed fugitives to law enforcement worldwide and is one of Interpol’s most important tools. The investigation led to the detention of four people for 72 hours on suspicion of interfering with the notices, Dragalin said.

The scheme sought to have people subject to Red Notices “obtain asylum or refugee status” in Moldova and other countries “with the aim of blocking and deleting” the notices by bribing public officials, she added.

The sums of money involved, she said, amount to several million dollars (euros).

Interpol said the operation by the international policing agency, headquartered in Lyon, France, followed the detection of attempts to “block and delete” the notices, which flag people deemed fugitives to law enforcement worldwide.

Moldova opened an investigation on April 2, after receiving information from France’s National Financial Prosecutor’s Office, and subsequently requested the assistance of the FBI.

“We are committed to fighting high-level corruption in all of its forms, particularly those schemes that put in jeopardy criminal investigations worldwide,” Dragalin said.

A statement from Interpol said the agency has taken steps to prevent further “misuse of its systems.”

“Our robust monitoring systems identified suspicious activity,” said Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock. “We took immediate action, including reporting the issue to law enforcement authorities in our host country France.”

Stock highlighting the vast number of individuals subject to Red Notices — over 70,000 people — but did not elaborate on the attempted sabotage.

When reached by The Associated Press, Interpol said because it was a Moldovan-French probe, it would not be appropriate for the agency to elaborate on an ongoing investigation.

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McGrath reported from Sighisoara, Romania.

By THOMAS ADAMSON and STEPHEN MCGRATH
Associated Press

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