|Kim Hjelmgaard, USA TODAY|AIWA! NO!|LONDON – The global law-enforcement group Interpol elected South Korea’s Kim Jong-yang as its new president Wednesday. Kim’s election averts a crisis in the international police body because it thwarts efforts by Russia to lead Interpol.
Kim was chosen by a vote among Interpol’s 194 member countries – every country in the world with the exception of North Korea – during a general assembly in Dubai. Kim, 57, will serve a two-year term.
Russian national Alexander Prokopchuck, a senior general who for the past 12 years has been the head of Moscow’s national Interpol bureau, part of Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, was widely tipped to win the post. Prokopchuck is close to the Kremlin and has been accused of routinely abusing Interpol’s Red Notice system – global arrest warrants – to target critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The prospect of a Russian sitting atop the international police organization raised red flags in Washington and among critics of the Kremlin who believed Putin would have further tried to aggressively influence Interpol to go after his political opponents.
“I can’t imagine a more inappropriate person” for Interpol, Bill Browder, an American businessman and prominent Putin foe, told reporters in London on Tuesday, speaking of Prokopchuck. “And I can’t imagine a more inappropriate country.”
Browder is responsible for pushing successful congressional passage of the Magnitsky Act, which imposes sanctions against government officials who commit human-rights abuses. The Magnitsky Act was used recently to sanction 17 Saudi nationals accused of murdering the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It has also been used for sanctions against Russia for its actions supporting separatists in Ukraine.
“It was his (Putin’s) government that organized a terrorist attack in the U.K. using chemical weapons in Salisbury. It was his government that shot down (commercial airliner) MH17 (over Ukraine), killing 298 innocent individuals. It was his government that cheated and hacked in elections in the United States and Europe,” Browder said.
“To put his representative in charge of the most important international crime-fighting organization (would be) like putting the mafia in charge.”
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Ahead of the vote, U.S. Senators Roger Wicker, R-Miss, Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Chris Coons, D-Del. and Marco Rubio, R-Fla. issued a statement in which they described Russia’s candidacy as “akin to putting a fox in charge of the henhouse.”
“Russia routinely abuses Interpol for the purpose of settling scores and harassing political opponents, dissidents and journalists,” the senators said.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “strongly” endorsed the South Korean candidate.
Kim’s elevation to the presidency comes in the wake of the disappearance of Meng Hongwei, a Chinese national who ran Lyon, France-based Interpol before vanishing in China in mysterious circumstances two months ago. Interpol said Hongwei resigned but his wife fears he is dead after being detained as part of a corruption crackdown.
“Our world is now facing unprecedented changes which present huge challenges to public security and safety,” Kim said Wednesday after his election. “To overcome them, we need a clear vision: we need to build a bridge to the future.”