South Korea’s Kim Jong Yang is elected as Interpol’s next president

Interpol has elected Kim Jong Yang of South Korea as its next president after a successful late push by western countries to thwart Russia’s candidate. Mr Kim, Interpol’s acting president, defeated Alexander Prokopchuk, a vice-president and a Russian police major-general, after a battle over the position sparked a dispute over alleged authoritarian abuse of the global police body. The election took place at Interpol’s annual general assembly in Dubai on Wednesday after Meng Hongwei, the previous president, disappeared in his native China last month over what Beijing has said is a probe into suspected corruption. The election of Mr Kim followed pressure from Washington and London as western politicians and rights groups expressed alarm at the idea of a Russian government nominee winning the presidency. On Wednesday, UK home secretary Sajid Javid responded on Twitter, saying Mr Kim’s “clear win comes despite Russia’s best efforts”. He added the result was an “encouraging victory for rules and rights-based security co-operation”.

The Meng case and the emergence of Mr Prokopchuk as a leading candidate had stoked fears that Interpol was becoming a tool of autocratic countries that use it to pursue political dissidents and other enemies across the world. Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, said on Tuesday that Washington “strongly” endorsed Mr Kim. “We encourage all nations and organisations that are part of Interpol and that respect the rule of law to choose a leader with credibility and integrity that reflects one of the world’s most critical law enforcement bodies,” Mr Pompeo said. “We believe Mr Kim will be just that.” Lithuania’s parliament passed a motion on Tuesday threatening to quit the organisation if Mr Prokopchuk were elected head. Ukraine had already warned it might do the same. Eimutis Misiunas, Lithuania’s interior minister, said Russia could use Interpol to crack down on Lithuanian officials. “Together with other EU countries and Nato allies we are the main voices advocating that if the Russian candidate is selected, Interpol could become a politicised instrument for the regime,” Mr Misiunas said. Russia condemned calls to oppose Mr Prokopchuk’s candidacy as an unjustified campaign to meddle with the Interpol vote and put pressure on the body’s other members. “We have read about such appeals in the media. This is a kind of interference in the electoral process, the election held by this international organisation,” Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, said. “How else could you evaluate this? This is a clear manifestation [of election interference],” he added.

The presidential vote has laid bare long-brewing tensions over what critics say is the increasing misuse of Interpol to hound opponents by Russia and other states, from Turkey to Venezuela. Interpol has denied it is being abused, pointing to safeguards in its constitution against political manipulation and to reform in the past few years to beef up its vetting of arrest requests.

Interpol’s president heads an executive committee that meets three times a year to set organisational policy and direction. Mr Prokopchuk joined Russia’s National Central Bureau of Interpol, the liaison office between the Lyon-based organisation and Moscow, in 2006 and was made its head five years later. It was during that time, Kremlin critics say, that Russia began to apply for large numbers of Interpol “red notices”, a mechanism for countries to ask other member states to arrest and extradite crime suspects. Rights activists say Moscow has targeted dissidents and other political opponents who have fled overseas, such as the UK-based financier Bill Browder.

Russia’s interior ministry, where Mr Prokopchuk has built a long career, said the official would — if elected — work “exclusively in the interests of the international police community”. “We are witnessing the foreign mass media’s campaign to discredit the Russian candidate for Interpol president,” ministry spokesperson Irina Volk told newswire Interfax. “We think it is inadmissible to politicise Interpol as a professional international organisation combining the efforts of . . . countries in the fight against transnational crime and terrorism.”

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