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25th Feb 2024

Boycott threats mount on eve of Interpol election

  • China's Interpol chief vanished earlier this year (Photo: interpol.int)

Lithuania has threatened to quit Interpol, along with Ukraine, if the international police agency elects a Russian official as its new president on Wednesday (21 November).

Its parliament voted 88 to nil on a resolution on Tuesday, saying that "if Mr Prokopchuk was elected head of Interpol, Lithuania, together with other democracies, should immediately consider withdrawing from this organisation".

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  • Alexander Prokopchuk was in charge of Russia's politically-motivated Interpol alerts before joining its HQ in Lyon (Photo: interpol.org)

Alexander Prokopchuk, a 56-year old Russian interior ministry official, led Russia's Interpol Bureau, in charge of cooperation with the agency, for five years before becoming Interpol's vice-president in 2016.

He needs two-thirds of the 177 Interpol member states which are attending its meeting in Dubai this week to vote for him to win.

Each member of the agency has an equal vote, no matter what its size.

The president serves for four years. He chairs meetings of its executive committee, which decides on the broad strategy of the agency.

The president has no official role in day-to-day actions, such as issuing "red notices" urging member states' police forces to hunt down suspects.

But he can exert informal influence on operational activities.

His brief tenure as vice-president has not seen anyone inside the agency complain about his behaviour.

But his nomination is controversial because he was directly involved in instigating politically-motivated red notices against Kremlin opponents in his previous role as Moscow's Interpol Bureau chief.

His best known victims were Bill Browder, a British campaigner for sanctions on Russia, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Russian oil tycoon in exile in the UK who campaigns for human rights in Russia.

But Prokopchuk also targeted others, such as Petr Silaev, a Russian environmentalist living in Finland, and Eerik Kross, a Russia-critical Estonian politician, on charges which Interpol ultimately rejected, prior to moving to his vice-president post at Interpol's HQ in Lyon, France.

His nomination is also controversial because Russia has continued to abuse Interpol structures since he went there, because of its lack of rule of law at home, and because of its aggressive behaviour in Europe.

Russia, together with its EU ally, Hungary, this year went after Zsolt Hernadi, an executive at an energy firm competing with a Russian one in Hungary.

Moscow, in May, also tried and failed to get hold of Browder one more time by issuing a lower level Interpol alert called a "diffusion", which led to his brief arrest in Spain.

It signalled on Monday that its campaign would continue by accusing Browder of having poisoned his business associates.

Ukraine

Olga Skabeeva, a host on Russia's state-owned Russia-1 TV channel, also indicated why Ukraine has threatened to quit if Russia gets its hands on the top job.

"We'll put the entire government of Ukraine in prison," if Prokopchuk gets in, she said.

For its part, the UK has said it would be voting for Kim Jong Yang, a South Korean candidate instead.

But Harriet Baldwin, speaking for the foreign office in parliament on Tuesday, did not react to calls by some MPs, including senior ones from the ruling Conservative party, to follow Lithuania and Ukraine out of the door.

Germany and the US have also resisted calls to formally oppose Prokopchuk's election despite calls by cross-party groups of politicians.

But Prokopchuk was "unelectable" as Interpol president due to his "multiple abuses of the red notice instrument to pursue political opponents", Norbert Roettgen, a centre-right German MP who chairs the foreign affairs committee in the Bundestag, said on Tuesday.

The US state department also said: "We are actively and broadly engaged with Interpol member states to underscore the need to elect someone who will promote, not undermine, the values and practices that make Interpol such a vital international body".

The avalanche of criticism from Kremlin critics, Western diplomats, and NGOs was denounced by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as "meddling in the electoral process, in elections to an international organisation" on Tuesday.

Chinese disappearance

Interpol last attracted similar criticism two years ago when it chose a Chinese security official, Meng Hongwei, to be its head, due to China's abysmal human rights record.

But he vanished earlier this year and resigned from his post via an unsigned letter, amid speculation that he fell foul of internal intrigues in Beijing.

The police agency was created almost 100 years ago, when it was first called the International Criminal Police Commission (ICPC), and is an independent international body with no outside oversight.

If Lithuania, Ukraine, and others boycott Interpol over Prokopchuk's election, it would amount to the second such event in the agency's history, after most members suspended cooperation between 1938 and 1945, when its presidents were a succession of four officers from the elite SS squad in Nazi Germany's armed forces.

Opinion

Interpol, China and the EU

China joins a long list of countries - including Russia - accused of abusing Interpol's 'Red Notice' system to harras activists and dissidents.

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2024 will be a momentous year for election observers

Our role is not to 'judge' the elections, but observation does provide an additional level of transparency, scrutiny and public accountability, writes Matteo Mecacci, director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).

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