Hong Kong police

How did Hong Kong police fail to notice HK$33m robbery suspect Romi was also wanted by Interpol?

Local force investigates the need to alert all frontline officers about those wanted by Interpol

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 March, 2018, 7:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 March, 2018, 12:42pm

Hong Kong police are reviewing their intelligence-sharing system after they failed to realise that a robbery suspect in their custody last year, who was released on bail and arrested again last month, was wanted in India on terrorism charges and Interpol had sent out an alert on him months ago.

Sources told the Post that the 29,000-strong force was looking into the need to alert all frontline officers about suspects wanted by Interpol to better prepare them and boost information sharing with overseas counterparts.

The move was prompted by the arrest of 29-year-old Indian-born permanent Hong Kong ­resident Ramanjit Singh, alias Romi, who has had a red notice out on him from the world’s largest international police organisation since mid-2017.

The Post understands that Hong Kong police only realised Singh was on Interpol’s list two days after he was arrested on February 21 over a hold-up in the city in which more than 450 million yen (HK$33 million) was stolen in Tsim Sha Tsui.

Singh is accused of committing the crime while he was on court bail over another HK$3.2 million robbery in Hung Hom in March last year.

Correctional services officers responsible for Singh in custody were also unaware of the need to step up security measures around him until after the Post reported his alleged crimes in India on February 26 this year.

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Singh is accused in the red notice of “conspiring in, abetting, advising and facilitating terrorist activities”, raising funds for terrorism, preparing an act of terror and membership of a terrorist group. 

However, the red notice did not mention Singh was a Hong Kong permanent resident – which could have placed him under their radar – stating only that he was born in India.

Currently, only officers from several police units such as the Liaison Bureau and Security Wing are responsible for monitoring Interpol’s red notices, which stop short of being international arrest warrants.

A government source said the force was studying the possibility of incorporating Interpol data into their Police Operational Nominal Index Computer System, which stores information on missing persons, suspects wanted locally and terrorists listed by the United Nations.

“Beat policemen can be in a very dangerous situation if they are not aware that the person in front of them is a suspected terrorist or murderer wanted by ­another country,” he said.

The source said police would also review whether all of Interpol’s wanted suspects should be added into their system, as those involved in white-collar and political crimes posed less security risks.

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Interpol issued 13,048 red ­notices in 2017, while a total of 52,103 were in circulation.

Another government source said: “Currently we do not alert frontline officers about Interpol’s wanted persons as we do not have enforcement power to arrest them, unless they have breached a local law or the country has filed a formal extradition request to the Department of Justice.”

What am I supposed to do if I am informed that the person in front of me is a suspected terrorist?
Emergency Unit constable

However, the source added, if officers encountered suspects wanted by Interpol during beat patrolling, the force could report their whereabouts to the organisation for further surveillance and follow-up action.

A police spokesman said the force would conduct a timely review of its computer database as well as stop-and-search guidelines for frontline officers to ensure more effective daily law enforcement. 

The review is not expected to include intelligence exchanges between local law enforcement agencies. 

The Correctional Services Department would not comment on individual cases, but said it would closely collaborate with other law enforcement agencies regarding people in prison.  

However, some frontline officers disagreed with the need for a review, questioning whether the additional information would put them in a “more dangerous and stressful position”.

“What am I supposed to do if I am informed that the person in front of me is a suspected terrorist? I cannot arrest him anyway but he may resist if I call him aside for questions. I am not trained to deal with a terrorist,” said an Emergency Unit constable who asked to remain anonymous.  

“It takes some minutes for backup to arrive if I request it. That period of time would be the most dangerous for two-man patrols as the suspected terrorist or murderer could resist using deadly force.”

Another constable from the same unit said the extra information would not be useful to him personally. If a country sought help from Hong Kong police regarding a wanted suspect, the force could still recall the details of that person if he or she had been stopped earlier by officers for an identity check, he added.

Interpol notices, categorised in eight different colours, are international requests for cooperation or alerts allowing police in 192 member countries to share critical crime-related information.

“A red notice is not an international arrest warrant,” an Interpol spokesman told the Post. “It is a request to provisionally arrest an individual pending extradition issued by the General Secretariat, upon the request of a member country based on a valid national arrest warrant.”

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Under Hong Kong laws, the police force does not have the legal power to arrest or make provisional arrests solely based on Interpol’s red notice. 

The force can only exchange intelligence with the requesting country when a wanted person surfaces. Arrest action can only be taken upon a formal extradition request made through the Department of Justice under the Surrender of Fugitive Offender agreements.