This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Interpol has elected a South Korean as its president, defeating a Russian candidate who was strongly opposed by the United States, Britain, and other European states.
Interim President Kim Jong-yang was elected to a two-year term at the helm of the international police agency in a vote on November 21, Interpol said on Twitter.
The vote followed mounting concern among Kremlin critics and Western lawmakers that Aleksandr Prokopchuk, a Russian police general who is now an Interpol vice president, would be elected.
In reaction to the result, the Kremlin said on November 21 that clear outside pressure had been exerted on the vote
“Of course we are sorry our candidate has not won,” said President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov. “Strong pressure was exerted, if you impartially look at a number of statements from a number of countries on the eve of the vote.”
However, Peskov said he had not yet seen anything that would throw the “legitimacy” of the vote in question, suggesting that Russia is unlikely to formally challenge the result.
Prokopchuk declined immediate comment.
Opponents of the prospect of a Russian heading the 95-year-old police agency based Lyon, France, said it would be dangerous given allegations that Moscow has used the agency’s procedures to pursue political enemies.
Experts say the powers of any Interpol president to influence day-to-day operations at Interpol, which acts as a clearinghouse for national police services that want to hunt down suspects outside their borders, are limited, but the presidency still commands influence.
Day-to-day work is handled by Secretary-General Jurgen Stock of Germany.
Russia had accused Prokopchuk’s critics of running a “campaign to discredit” him, with Peskov claiming that U.S. senators who spoke out against choosing a Russian president were meddling in the process.
American-born British investor Bill Browder, who has now become a campaigner against Russian human rights abuses, said common sense had prevailed with Interpol’s decision to elect Kim.
Browder and former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, also a Kremlin foe, had warned on November 20 that electing Prokopchuk would have undermined Interpol’s credibility and politicized police cooperation across borders.
Ahead of the vote, U.S. National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis said that “the Russian government abuses Interpol’s processes to harass its political opponents, ” adding that Washington “strongly endorses” Kim.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the same day that the United States encouraged choosing an Interpol chief with credibility and integrity, adding, “We believe Mr. Kim will be just that.”
The election was needed to replace Interpol’s former president, Meng Hongwei, who was China’s vice minister of public security and who went missing while on a trip to China in September.
China later said Meng resigned after being charged with accepting bribes.
Rights groups voiced concern when Meng was approved as Interpol president two years ago, with Amnesty International criticizing “China’s long-standing practice of trying to use Interpol to arrest dissidents and refugees abroad.”
After Prokopchuk lost to Kim, the Russian Interior Ministry said on November 21 that he would continue to serve as vice president of the international police agency.
“Prokopchuk will continue to serve as the Interpol vice president representing Europe,” Ministry spokesperson Irina Volk told Russian media, adding that his activity will focus on “heightening the organization’s effectiveness.”
Several media reports have noted that Prokopchuk is the older brother of Ihor Prokopchuk, Ukraine’s envoy to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna.