US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday endorsed a South Korean candidate to take the helm of Interpol, brushing aside Moscow’s concerns that rivals are mounting a last-minute effort to scuttle a Russian frontrunner’s chances.
Kim Jong-Yang is currently the acting president of the global police body. A vote in Dubai is set for Wednesday, the final day of Interpol’s annual conference, to replace former president Meng Hongwei, who is detained in China on bribery charges.
“We strongly endorse Kim Jong-Yang,” Pompeo told reporters.
“We encourage all nations and organizations that are part of Interpol and that respect the rule of law to choose a leader with integrity. We believe Mr Kim will be just that.”
The endorsement came as critics called on Interpol to reject Russian candidate Alexander Prokopchuk over fears Moscow could abuse the role to target political opponents.
Moscow’s critics have raised concerns over Russia’s previous applications for Interpol “Red Notices,” or international arrest warrants, to target those who have fallen foul of the Kremlin.
Prokopchuk, a Russian interior ministry official and current Interpol vice president, appears to be the favorite for the position.
In an open letter this week, a bipartisan group of US senators said choosing Prokopchuk would be like “putting a fox in charge of a henhouse.”
“Russia routinely abuses Interpol for the purpose of settling scores and harassing political opponents, dissidents and journalists,” they wrote.
The senators said Prokopchuk has been “personally involved” in this strategy.
Delegates from Interpol member countries will elect a new president to replace Meng Hongwei, who went missing in his native China in September. Beijing later said Meng resigned after being charged with accepting bribes.
Whoever is elected will serve out Meng’s term until 2020.
British foreign office minister Harriet Baldwin on Tuesday told parliament that London would support Kim’s bid.
“We always seek to endorse candidates who have a history of observing standards of international behavior,” she said.
– ‘Political persecution’ –
Anti-Kremlin figures have raised concerns, including Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who has been repeatedly jailed by authorities.
“Our team has suffered from abuse of Interpol for political persecution by Russia,” Navalny wrote on Twitter. “I don’t think that a president from Russia will help to reduce such violations.”
US National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis echoed Kim’s endorsement.
“As recent events show, the Russian government abuses INTERPOL’s processes to harass its political opponents,” he said on Twitter.
“INTERPOL and its member countries must uphold policies that advance international police coordination and preserve the rule of law.”
The controversy also comes amid security concerns over accusations of Russian agents carrying out a spy poisoning in Britain and attempting to hack the network of the global chemical weapons watchdog.
Moscow’s interior ministry denounced a “foreign media campaign aimed at discrediting Russia’s candidate.”
But two foes of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who have been targeted by international arrest warrants sought by Moscow, also said Tuesday they were launching a bid to get Russia suspended from Interpol for abusing the agency.
The legal challenge was announced by financier Bill Browder, named in multiple Interpol warrants, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky — a former oil baron who spent 10 years in a Russian jail and now lives in London exile.
“The Interpol constitution has very specific rules which forbid countries who are serial abusers from using the system,” Browder told reporters.
– Putin’s ‘tentacles’ –
Browder, briefly arrested in Spain this year under a Moscow-issued Red Notice, said the Russian candidacy was an attempt by Putin to “expand his criminal tentacles to every corner of the globe.”
Browder fought for — and in 2012 secured — US sanctions against Russian officials believed to be involved in the death of his tax consultant, Sergei Magnitsky.
Magnitsky died in jail in 2009 after accusing Russian officials of a $230 million tax fraud.
Russia has rejected the claims and this week announced it was opening a new probe into Browder on suspicion of running a “transnational criminal gang,” even suggesting he was behind Magnitsky’s death.
Russian prosecutors said he would be put on an international wanted list “in the near future.”
Multilingual Prokopchuk worked in tax enforcement before starting as a Russian representative at Interpol in 2006, according to the interior ministry.
A decade later he was elected to a vice president position in the organization.
Russia has already made its mark even if Moscow’s candidate does not lead the organization, security expert Andrei Soldatov told AFP.
“Interpol is a system that Russia has learned to use well for its own purposes.”
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