Kremlin Foes Fume Over Possible Russian Interpol President

Russian President Vladimir Putin, background center, speaks during a meeting with top military officers in the Bocharov Ruchei residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Monday, Nov. 19, 2018. (Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

By DANICA KIRKA and ANGELA CHARLTON

LONDON (AP) — A financier and Kremlin critic warned Tuesday that naming a top Russian police official to be president of Interpol would undermine the international law enforcement agency and politicize police cooperation across borders.

Bill Browder, who runs an investment fund that had once operated in Moscow, said President Vladimir Putin has tried to use Interpol to hunt down critics and electing a Russian to lead the agency could intensify such efforts. The London-based businessman has campaigned for sanctions against Russian officials charged with human rights abuses after his former lawyer died in custody.

“If a Russian were to become head of Interpol I think that will put the organization in grave danger of being fully discredited … and particularly if the Russians then try to use this new person to chase after me after it’s already been established that Russia has abused Interpol several times before,” Browder told The Associated Press.

Interpol’s general assembly, meeting in Dubai, is expected to elect its new president on Wednesday. Alexander Prokopchuk, a general in the Russian Interior Ministry who is currently a vice president of Interpol, is the front-runner to become its next president.

Critics have long accused powerful governments of trying to use Interpol to pursue their political enemies.

Speaking to the BBC, Browder said: “You have a country, Russia, which has used chemical weapons in Salisbury, they’ve shot down a passenger plane in Ukraine, they’ve tried to hack elections all over the world, they’ve cheated in the Olympics and all of a sudden you’re going to take a Russian, a guy who’s basically taking instructions from Putin, and put him in charge.”

Russia denies accusations of foreign interference, and announced new charges against Browder this week in a long-running legal battle against him.

Based in the French city of Lyon, Interpol is a clearinghouse for police agencies around the world, helping them cooperate outside their borders. It is best-known for issuing red notices, or alerts that identify a suspect pursued by another country, effectively putting them on the world’s “most-wanted” list.

Interpol itself won’t comment on the upcoming vote. The Interpol presidency is more of a ceremonial position compared to the hands-on leadership role of the secretary-general. The president oversees the executive committee, which meets a few times a year and makes decisions on Interpol’s strategy and direction.

Interpol’s charter explicitly proclaims its neutrality, and two years ago it introduced measures aimed at strengthening the legal framework around the red notice system. As part of the changes, an international team of lawyers and experts first check a notice’s compliance with Interpol rules and regulations before it goes out.

But the potential of a Putin loyalist in such a prominent role has prompted concern among those critical of the Russian president’s leadership. Four U.S. senators, including Marco Rubio, have urged U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration to oppose the Prokopchuk candidacy.

Asked about the senators’ statement, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it amounted to meddling in the vote.

“It’s interference in the electoral process, in elections at an international body,” Peskov said. He refrained from further comment pending the outcome of the vote.

This is not the first time that Interpol’s votes are causing controversy.

Human rights groups raised the alarm two years ago when Interpol’s general assembly approved Meng Hongwei, a longtime senior Chinese security official, as president. Human Rights Watch warned that Meng’s election would “embolden and encourage abuses” in the Interpol system. Amnesty criticized “China’s longstanding practice of trying to use Interpol to arrest dissidents and refugees abroad.”

Meng is now under arrest in China as part of a possible domestic political purge — hence the vote this week to replace him.

Interpol’s general assembly is made up of member states, each of which has an equal vote. It also votes on membership, such as Tuesday when they rejected admitting Kosovo. Interpol members voted last year to admit Palestine as a member, causing uproar in Israel.

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Vladimir Isachenkov contributed from Moscow.

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