A Russian official is favourite to be the next head of Interpol in spite of concerns that Moscow has been using the international policing agency to target political opponents.
British officials expect Alexander Prokopchuk, 56, a veteran of Russia’s interior ministry, to be elected as the next Interpol president next week. The election follows the disappearance of Meng Hongwei, the president who resigned last month and is being investigated by China’s anti-corruption authorities.
Mr Prokopchuk’s appointment would represent a significant victory for the Kremlin after criticism of the Russian state for abusing the agency’s “red notice” system.
Russia has been accused of trying to obtain red notices, which are effectively international arrest warrants, against political opponents to restrict their ability to travel or secure their extradition. Subjects of red notices risk arrest in Interpol’s member countries and can have their assets frozen.
In May Bill Browder, a US financier and critic of President Putin, was arrested in Spain under a Russian arrest warrant. He was later released. Mr Browder claimed that he had been the subject of a red notice, although Interpol rejected this claim. The Spanish police suggested that Interpol had failed to delete an expired arrest warrant. At Britain’s request Interpol has issued red notices for Alexander Mishkin and Anatoliy Chepiga, the Russians accused of poisoning Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury.
British officials believe that Mr Prokopchuk, who is one of only two confirmed candidates for the presidency, has unstoppable momentum before Wednesday’s election. The UK government has calculated that Mr Prokopchuk will win and that there is no point in trying to stop him, according to a Whitehall official. A source close to Interpol said that Mr Prokopchuk was the frontrunner. Each member country sending delegates to the general assembly in Dubai will get a vote. The other confirmed candidate is Kim Jong Yang, a South Korean who is the acting head of Interpol. South Africa is also thought to be planning to nominate a candidate.
Mr Prokopchuk is one of four Interpol vice-presidents after being nominated by Russia two years ago. He has had a long career at the interior ministry and was given the rank of major-general of police in 2011.
David Clark, a former foreign office special adviser, said that the interior ministry had been responsible for many controversial red notice requests during Mr Prokopchuk’s time. “Mr Prokopchuk is a problem because he was the person in the Russian interior ministry who was responsible for concocting many of these fabricated red notice requests when he was a Russian government official,” he said.
Ben Keith, a barrister specialising in red notices, said that Mr Prokopchuk’s potential appointment “beggars belief” and added that red notices were “frequently misused by unscrupulous regimes because Interpol don’t have proper checks and balances in place”.
Fair Trials, a campaign group, says that “it would not be appropriate for a country with a record of violations of Interpol’s rules to be given a leadership role in a key oversight institution”.
Russia denies misusing red notices.
Behind the story
The previous head of Interpol disappeared during a trip home to China and has been detained on suspicion of corruption (Billy Kenber writes). Meng Hongwei, 64, who was China’s vice-minister for public security as well as Interpol president, was reported missing in September. Chinese authorities have announced that he is being investigated on suspicion of taking bribes and Interpol was presented with a resignation letter purportedly signed by him. His wife said that the last text message he sent her was a knife emoji. She has accused Interpol of “aiding and abetting” China in failing to protect her husband.
NOTABLE RED NOTICES
- Bill Browder In May the US businessman was arrested in Spain under a Russian arrest warrant; the “sixth time that Russia has abused Interpol in my case” he tweeted
- Akhmed Zakayev Chechen opposition leader was held for a month in Denmark on a red notice, accused of murdering someone who was not dead.
- Petr Silaev Russian journalist and environment activist, held by police for ten days in Spain. Released because the warrant was politically motivated.
- Nikita Kulachenkov Anti-corruption activist who was held in Cyprus while visiting family, on politically motivated charges.
This article was originally published by the Times on November 17th 2018 and can be viewed here.
Ben Keith is a barrister specialising in Extradition, Immigration, Serious Fraud, Human Rights and Public law. He is ranked in Chambers and Partners and Legal 500 in the top tiers. He has particular expertise in human rights and extradition proceedings in post-soviet states including Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Kazakhstan. He represents politically exposed persons in immigration, extradition and financial proceedings.