The leading candidate to become the next president of Interpol is Alexander Prokopchuk, a police general in the Russian Interior Ministry who has for the past seven years headed Interpol’s Russian bureau. Prokopchuk’s candidacy was kept under wraps until the last moment – and, presumably, until the Kremlin was confident of securing enough votes.
The British government has determined that Prokopchuk’s victory is assured to the extent that “there is no point in trying to stop him”.
This would be a very bad thing.
A British human rights group, Fair Trials, wrote to the Interpol secretariat strongly protesting the nomination and noting that “it would not be appropriate for a country with a record of violations of Interpol’s rules (for example by frequently seeking to use its systems to disseminate politically motivated alerts) to be given a leadership role in a key oversight institution.”
“Politically motivated alerts” have been a favourite Kremlin tactic, used to legitimise its prosecution of political opponents and make their lives more difficult by limiting their movements.
Despite the explicit ban in Interpol’s constitution on “any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character,” the organisation happily accepted Moscow’s requests to issue “red notices” – in effect, international arrest warrants – against prominent Kremlin opponents.
Fortunately the powers that be at Interpol do currently follow the rules and cancel the red notices when they determine they have been issued improperly. But if the President of Interpol is a Putin lackey, that may no longer be the case.
But the misuse of the “red notice” system would be the least of the problems should Prokopchuk accede to Interpol’s presidency. The main purpose of the organisation is information-sharing and mutual assistance among national police forces.
One can imagine what the Kremlin could do with access to sensitive databases around the world. For one thing, there could be many more inconspicuous Russian tourists visiting foreign countries on brand-new passports to admire ancient gothic cathedrals.
The problem we have is that the majority of countries in the world are not democracies.
Maybe what we need is to set up new international bodies, with memberships restricted to democratic nations that follow the rule of law. Basically the OECD countries as a starting point.
UPDATE: They did the right thing and rejected the Russian. The BBC reports:
Interpol has elected South Korean Kim Jong-yang as its president, rejecting the Russian frontrunner who had been accused of abusing the international police body’s arrest warrant system.
Mr Kim was chosen by Interpol’s 194 member states at a meeting of its annual congress in Dubai.
He beat Russia’s Alexander Prokopchuk, who had been widely tipped to win.
But there was growing concern that Mr Prokopchuk would use the role to target critics of Russia’s President Putin.
This is really good news. Interpol does important work and would have suffered if Putin got to control it.