Tue, 21 May 2019

Pressure has been building on Interpol ahead of a vote to choose a new chief for the international police agency, with U.S. senators and others warning against the possibility that a top Russian Interior Ministry official might become the agency's new head.

British media have reported that 56-year-old Major General Aleksandr Prokopchuk will most likely be elected despite allegations that Moscow has used Interpol's procedures to pursue political enemies.

Police chiefs gathering in the Gulf city of Dubai were scheduled to vote on a new chief at their meeting on November 21.

The agency, headquartered in the French city of Lyon, acts as a clearinghouse for national police services that want to hunt down suspects outside their borders. The agency does not have the ability to arrest people.

Critics of the agency have warned that it is increasingly being used by some nations to pursue politically motivated prosecutions by using so-called 'red notices.' Those are alerts by Interpol to member states that identify suspects wanted for arrest by another country.

'Absurd' Presidency

Two days ahead of the scheduled vote, Ukraine's Interior Ministry vowed to push for suspending his country's membership if Prokopchuk is elected.

'Russia's possible presidency at Interpol is absurd and contradicts the spirit and goals of that organization,' Arsen Avakov said in a statement November 19.

Avakov's comments come amid high tensions between Moscow and Kyiv over Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region and its backing for separatists in a war in eastern Ukraine.

The question of Russia potentially assuming oversight of the agency drew condemnation from a bipartisan group of U.S. senators, including Republicans Marco Rubio and Roger Wicker, and Democrats Jeanne Shaheen and Chris Coons.

'Interpol electing...Prokopchuk as its new President is akin to putting a fox in charge of a henhouse,' the group said in a letter. 'Russia routinely abuses Interpol for the purpose of settling scores and harassing political opponents, dissidents and journalists.'

It also drew condemnation from Russian anticorruption activist Aleksei Navalny, who has faced a series of detentions and criminal charges, which he and his supporters have called politically motivated. He said his associates 'have suffered abuse' from Interpol officials who were complying with Russian warrants to persecute Kremlin opponents.

'I don't think that a president from Russia will help to reduce such violations,' he said in a posting to Twitter.

Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian opposition activist, said in an opinion article in The Washington Post that Russia was likely to misuse the 'red notice' system if Prokopchuk were to take over the agency.

'The main purpose of the organization is information-sharing and mutual assistance among national police forces. One can imagine what the Kremlin could do with access to sensitive databases around the world,' he wrote.

The November 21 vote is to replace Meng Hongwei, who was China's vice minister of public security and who went missing while on a trip to China in September.

Beijing later said that he was detained as part of a sweeping purge against allegedly corrupt or disloyal officials under President Xi Jinping's authoritarian administration.

Interpol's general assembly will also consider membership from several countries, including Kosovo.

Accepting Kosovo as a full member would allow Pristina, among other things, to distribute red notices for Serbian officials that Kosovo deems to be war criminals.

Two years ago, Interpol introduced new measures aimed at strengthening the legal framework around the red notice system after facing criticism that governments have abused the system to go after political enemies and dissidents.

As part of the changes, an international team of lawyers and experts would first check a notice's compliance with Interpol rules and regulations before it is issued.

With reporting by AP and Financial Times RFE/RL

RFE/RL journalists report the news in 23 countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established.

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Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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