Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday stated his government’s strong support for Alexander Prokopchuk to become the next president of Interpol. The international law enforcement organization will hold an election on Wednesday to replace president Meng Hongwei, arrested and jailed in China last month on corruption charges.
“Of course, we back the bid of the Russian candidate, and we undoubtedly want him to win the election,” Peskov said of Prokopchuk, who currently presides over the Russian Interior Ministry’s National Central Bureau of Interpol.
The other leading candidate for the position is Kim Jong-yang of South Korea, senior vice president of Interpol’s Executive Committee and acting president since Meng resigned from his post in October.
Meng Hongwei, the first Chinese national to serve as Interpol president, was “disappeared” by the Chinese government in September when he traveled from Interpol headquarters in France to visit family in China. The Chinese government later responded to the international uproar over Meng’s disappearance by charging him with corruption in his capacity as vice chairman of China’s Ministry of Public Security.
Meng’s wife Grace, speaking from the relative safety of Paris, accused the Chinese government of fabricating the charges against him for political reasons. Among other grievances, she noted the government did not announce the charges against Meng Hongwei or say a word about his status until weeks after his disappearance, and only then because she filed a missing persons report with the French police and Interpol became tepidly involved. Furthermore, he did not actually sign the letter of resignation he supposedly tendered after he vanished into a Chinese jail.
“The whole world knows what the situation is like in China, and anyone can imagine what will happen if I and my children go back to China,” Grace Meng replied when asked if she and her two sons would apply for political asylum in France. As of this week, she has round-the-clock protection from the French police, refuses to be photographed, and keeps her Chinese name secret.
Despite the distress of the Meng family, Interpol stated it could do little to interfere in a “sovereign” Chinese affair. This leaves observers such as Ted Bromund of the Heritage Foundation, writing at Forbes on Sunday, more than a little apprehensive about replacing Meng with another top official from an authoritarian regime with a penchant for tossing politically inconvenient people in jail on very short notice:
At this point, there is no need to waste energy demonstrating that Russia is an abuser of the Interpol system. That charge has been amply proven already. Russia is certainly not the only abusive state, of course, but it is a major one, and Russian abuse is more significant because it has been so blatant, so often repeated, and is so clearly part of the wider and malevolent strategy of the Putin regime.
There is literally no one in the world who bears a more direct and personal responsibility for Russia’s abuse of Interpol than Alexander Prokopchuk . Since June 2011, he has been the head of Russia’s National Central Bureau, its NCB. Every Interpol member nation has an NCB, which is controlled by the member nation and which serves as the point of contact and conduit for all the information that flows between Interpol and the member nation.
In other words, every single abusive act that Russia has perpetrated through Interpol since June 2011 – the harassment of William Browder, of Estonian politician Eerik-Niiles Kross, of businessmen Igor Borbot and Alexey Kharis, and much more – was sanctioned directly by Prokopchuk. He had the clear and acknowledged responsibility under Interpol’s rules not to abuse its systems. But instead of stopping the abuse, he permitted it, facilitated it, and endorsed it. The abuse is his responsibility.
Bromund grimly predicted that Prokopchuk’s elevation to Interpol chief would indicate a majority of member nations “agree with Russia and China that Interpol is an instrument of power, not of law.” He advised the United States to consider leading an exodus of democratic countries out of Interpol and creating their own autocracy-free law enforcement organization if the Russian candidate prevails.
Bloomberg News quoted British officials on Sunday glumly predicting Prokopchuk will win the Wednesday election, potentially a bad omen for the subjects of Russian “red notice” arrest warrants living in Interpol countries. Chief among them is financier and Putin critic Bill Browder, wanted by the Russian government on charges of tax evasion. Browder was the employer of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, whose death in Russian custody in 2009 resulted in the passage of the 2012 Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, a U.S. law the Putin government loathes most recently invoked when the U.S. imposed sanctions on Saudi Arabian officials linked to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
Browder greeted the prospect of a Putin hand becoming Interpol president with heavy sarcasm, as noted by CNS News on Monday:
At the weekend, Browder called the possibility of Prokopchuk becoming INTERPOL president “absolutely astonishing, but not without precedent,” noting on Twitter that “Nazi Germany took over Interpol in the 1930s.”
In a later tweet, Browder described the general assembly venue in Dubai as “the room where Putin will attempt his most audacious operation yet: to take over Interpol so he can expand his criminal tentacles to every corner of the globe.”
The United States is represented at the Interpol conference in Dubai by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, whose remarks to the assembly on Sunday signaled discomfort with Meng’s disappearance and the prospect of a Russian replacement:
The rule of law is not simply about words written on paper. The culture of a society and the character of the people who enforce the law determine whether the rule of law endures.
Since we met last year in Beijing, the news media has reported several prominent challenges to the rule of law, including the lawless attacks on Sergei and Yulia Skripal and Jamal Khashoggi. Last month, international attention focused on INTERPOL, as a result of the disappearance of President Meng Hongwei. Such events give rise to questions about whether our member countries abide by shared principles. In evaluating our actions at this General Assembly, observers may ask whether our votes reflect the values that we profess. We must stand for the rule of law.
Business Insider reported on Monday that South Africa may nominate a candidate to run against Prokopchuk and Kim Jong-yang.