Interpol hit headlines around the world this week after its chief, Meng Hongwei, disappeared during a trip to China.
Meng’s wife has called for help from the international community, saying she thinks her husband is in danger because of a message she received from him of a knife emoji before his disappearance.
However, authorities in China have said the official — who submitted his resignation to Interpol on Sunday with immediate effect — was being investigated for alleged bribe-taking.
But what is Interpol, how powerful is it, and what cases has it been involved in?
What is Interpol?
Interpol is the world’s largest international police organisation, coordinating action between forces around the world, including searches for wanted and missing people.
The agency, which has 192 member countries, says its role is “to enable police around the world to work together to make the world a safer place".
“We aim to facilitate international police cooperation even where diplomatic relations do not exist between particular countries,” it says on its website.
Based in the French city of Lyon, Interpol’s General Secretariat oversees the day-to-day work of the organisation, while diplomats say the role of president is largely ceremonial.
What powers does it have?
Interpol “does not have any ‘powers’ as such,” said Christopher David, a white-collar criminal defence lawyer and co-author of “A Practical Guide to Interpol and Red Notices”.
“It is, in fact, a network of 190 national police forces which Interpol connects and then the local police use their own national powers,” he told Euronews.
In an example of how the agency operates, David explained that a member police force can ask the General Secretariat to issue a Red Notice that is then circulated to all other members requesting that an individual is detained or arrested under local law, before the local extradition process begins.
“Interpol is therefore effectively an information exchange,” he said.
What is Interpol not allowed to do?
Interpol does not have the power to arrest or detain anyone, as it must act through the local police forces, David said.
Interpol has a constitution and complex series of rules, which state that the agency cannot act in a “political, military, religious or racial nature", he added.
There are also rules laying out the basis on which Interpol can issue a Red Notice, how the agency stores data and how the notices can be challenged.
David said the most common misconceptions about Interpol are “that it is a police force and that it actually has any powers".
What cases has Interpol been involved in?
Interpol has been involved in numerous cases, spanning crimes including human trafficking, drug networks, fraud and terrorism.
Among the most high-profile cases are the arrest of international terrorist “Carlos the Jackal”, who was blamed for a string of killings in Western Europe in the 1970s and 1980s, and the capture of former US Drug Administration agent Darnell Garcia, who stole hundreds of kilos of cocaine and heroin from evidence lockers and laundered the profits, transferring them to Swiss bank accounts.
Has it been involved in any controversy?
In a 2012 investigation, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists said countries such as Iran, Russia and Tunisia were using Red Notices to round up political opponents.
The Open Dialogue Foundation in 2015 launched similar criticisms at the agency, saying Interpol had become “a ‘convenient’ tool used for harassment in a number of political cases".
Earlier this year, Spanish police detained and then released British businessman and prominent Kremlin critic Bill Browder after an arrest warrant from Russia over alleged tax evasion was found to be invalid.
Browder said on Twitter that Interpol had advised Spanish police not to honour a Russian Interpol Red Notice.
“This is the sixth time that Russia has abused Interpol in my case,” he tweeted.