Ben Keith comments in the Express on the recent Interpol decision

INTERPOL’S decision to elected Kim Jong-yang of South Korea as president for a two-year term on Wednesday rather than Russian candidate Alexander Prokopchuk has been greeted with sighs of relief from British legal experts.


But Russian authorities have claimed “clear outside pressure” had been brought to bear on today’s key vote among the organisation’s 194 member states. The possible appointment of Mr Prokopchuk to chief the international police body was criticised yesterday, with a group of US senators including Marco Rubio warning to place a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin at the head of Interpol would be “like putting a fox in charge of a hen house”. Ben Keith, a barrister at London-based law firm 5 St Andrew’s Hill, agreed, telling “The possibility of appointing Prokopchuk was a plot straight out of a spy movie. 

Ben Keith, a barrister at London-based law firm 5 St Andrew’s Hill, agreed, telling “The possibility of appointing Prokopchuk was a plot straight out of a spy movie. 

“Interpol is meant to be the James Bond of international policing but the appointment would have moved Interpol even closer to being a puppet of despotic regimes.

“Russia frequently issues Interpol Red Notices to ask for arrest and extradition of political opponents and business people whose interests do not align with the regime. 

“The pursuit of Bill Browder by the repeated issuing of Red Notices is just one example of the continued pursuit of political opponents. The attempt to get Prokopchuk elected is the Russian state acting out McMafia in real life. 

“It is remarkable that Russia, having used chemical weapons to kill Sergei Skripal in Salisbury and then attempted to cover it up by hacking the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in the Hague, is even allowed to be part of Interpol.

“Appointing Prokopchuk would have handed legitimacy for abuse of Interpol to Putin and put his cronies in charge – it would have allowed Russia to claim legitimacy for flagrant breaches of international law and human rights. 

“The arch-nemesis of James Bond, Ernst Stavro Blofeld would have been stroking his white cat at the thought of Russia having such huge influence on Interpol.”

Rebecca Niblock, a partner in the Criminal Litigation team at Kingsley Napley LLP, also welcomed the news – while sounding a note of caution.

She told “A collective sigh of relief was heard in the UK this morning at the news that Alexander Prokopchuk has not been elected as the new head of Interpol. 

“In the current climate, post-Skripal, it is no surprise that the prospect of a former insider in the Kremlin’s interior ministry as head of the international body would cause alarm. Such relief, however, may be premature.

“Prokopchuk remains not only a vice-President of Interpol but also a member of the important Commission for the Control of Files of Interpol (CCF) which decides on the admissibility of red notices (although he absents himself when Russian cases are being discussed).

“As many of the 192 member states of Interpol have discovered, red notices are a powerful tool when deployed against political opponents.

A red notice can have a huge impact on a person’s life – affecting not only their ability to travel, but also their ability to work and to access bank accounts.”

What was needed was a “root and branch reform” giving Interpol great power take action against countries, like Russia, which “routinely abuse the red notice system”, she said.

They were speaking after Interpol’s annual congress confirmed Kim to succeed Meng Hongwei, who disappeared in September and later resigned after Chinese authorities said he was being investigated for suspected bribery.

Interpol said on Twitter that Kim, who had been serving as acting president, had been elected for a two-year term. The body's presidency, a largely ceremonial role, is typically held for four years.

It said Nestor R Roncaglia of Argentina had been elected to a three-year term as vice president for the Americas.

Kim told Interpol's general assembly in Dubai, according to the agency's Twitter: "Our world is now facing unprecedented changes which present huge challenges to public security and safety. 

"To overcome them, we need a clear vision: we need to build a bridge to the future."

Prior to the election, former Belgian prime minister and European Parliament member Guy Verhofstadt had said "democratic and free countries may need to develop a parallel organisation" if Prokopchuk was elected.

He tweeted: "Russia has consistently misused Interpol to pursue its political opponents.” 

The Kremlin said on Wednesday that clear outside pressure had been exerted on a vote to elect a new head of Interpol, but that it did not see any factors that would render the election illegitimate, Russian news agencies reported.

International police body Interpol elected Kim Jong-yang of South Korea as its president for a two-year term on Wednesday, beating a Russian national whose candidacy raised concerns in the West about the risk of Kremlin interference.

The Kremlin regretted that Russia's candidate did not win, spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.

This article was originally published by the Express on 21st November 2018 and can be viewed here. You can also view Ben's comments in The Times on this issue.

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.