French authorities have opened a case against Interpol's Emirati president over accusations of torture and arbitrary detention by two Britons who were detained in the UAE, a source close to the inquiry told AFP on Wednesday.
The case into suspected complicity in torture by Ahmed Nasser al-Raisi was confirmed by France's anti-terror prosecutors office (PNAT), which has handed it to an investigating magistrate who will now decide whether to press charges.
The two Britons, Matthew Hedges and Ali Issa Ahmad, accuse Raisi of having ultimate responsibility -- as a senior interior ministry security official -- for the torture and arbitrary detention they say they suffered in the United Arab Emirates.
The source said the investigating magistrate must also decide if Raisi, who was elected Interpol president in November, enjoys diplomatic immunity from prosecution in France.
The Britons filed the complaint under France's principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows it to prosecute serious crimes even if they are committed on foreign soil.
This means Raisi could be detained for questioning if he visits the country. Interpol's headquarters are in the southeastern French city of Lyon which he is believed to have visited several times this year.
The case against Raisi, opened in late March, goes a step further than the torture inquiry launched against him by French prosecutors in November over the detention of UAE dissident Ahmed Mansoor.
At the time, the UAE's foreign ministry rejected the complaints over Mansoor's detention conditions as "without foundation".
"Any legal complaint that may be filed with allegations against al-Raisi is without merit and will be rejected," the UAE foreign ministry added.
In the latest case, the inquiry is in the hands of an investigating magistrate, a step that precedes the pressing of any charges.
Contacted by AFP, the UAE embassy in Paris declined to comment.
Interpol's general secretariat said it was "premature" to comment as it was an ongoing matter between the parties involved.
- 'Psychological torture' -
Both plaintiffs were in Paris on Wednesday to testify before the investigating magistrate.
Hedges, an academic specialising in the UAE, says he was detained and tortured in the country from May to November 2018 after being arrested on charges of espionage during a study trip.
He was forced to make false confessions that led to a sentence of life imprisonment before his release under international pressure led by the UK.
He told AFP on Wednesday that he spent seven months in solitary confinement, and forced to take medication. This, he said, was part of "a very specific strategy to inflict psychological torture".
Interrogations lasted for up to 15 hours at a time, and there were threats of violence against him and his family, Hedges said, calling his ordeal "terrifying".
He began to self-harm and tried to take his own life, "all a result of the medication".
Hedges said that Raisi "had to have known" about his treatment.
Ahmad, meanwhile, said he was repeatedly beaten and even stabbed during a month in detention in January 2019, allegedly for enthusiastically supporting the UAE's Gulf rival Qatar in a football clash against Iraq during that year's AFC Asian Cup.
During his arrest, a policeman cut the Qatari flag out of his T-shirt with a pocketknife, injuring Ahmad in the process, he told AFP.
He was "interrogated day and night" during the detention. "It's a very hard time I have been through, it's horrendous," he said.
Both men have also initiated legal action against Raisi in Norway, Sweden and Turkey.
Raisi's four-year term at Interpol is largely ceremonial, with Secretary General Juergen Stock handling day-to-day management of the organisation.
His candidacy for the Interpol job prompted an outcry from activists, who pointed to the generous funding Interpol receives from the United Arab Emirates.