LONDON - Interpol is in danger of being politicized by Russia as the organization chooses a new president, according to Kremlin critics.
A senior Russian police official is one of only two candidates put forward for the role of president of the organization, which coordinates police forces across the globe, in a vote scheduled Wednesday in Dubai. The winner of the election will replace Chinese national Meng Hongwei, who was detained in Beijing in September over corruption allegations.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday that the United States was supporting Kim Jong Yang of South Korea to lead the international police agency Interpol, pitting Washington against the Kremlin's candidate, Maj. Gen. Aleksandr Prokopchuk.
Prokopchuk, who heads Russia's national Interpol Bureau, is widely seen as the favorite to be elected president of the organization. Critics say in recent years Russia has abused Interpol's so-called "red notice" system of international arrest warrants to pursue its political enemies.
Among those targeted have been Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an exiled Russian businessman, and financier Bill Browder, the subject of six red notice requests by Russia, all of them thrown out by Interpol. The two men held a news conference Tuesday in London to highlight their concerns.
"This is a perfect way for [Russian President Vladimir] Putin to basically breathe the fear of God into all of his enemies, so that they know that they can't even escape Russia if one of his guys is at the head of Interpol," Browder told reporters. "The Interpol constitution has very specific rules, which forbid countries who are serial abusers from using the system. We intend to begin a legal process to have Russia suspended from their use of Interpol."
As chief executive of Hermitage Capital Management in Russia, Browder uncovered $230 million in tax fraud allegedly carried out by senior Russian officials.
Browder's investigating lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, was arrested and beaten to death in police custody in 2009. Russian courts later convicted Magnitsky posthumously, and Browder in absentia, of stealing the money. Browder strongly denies the charges.
This week, Russian prosecutors opened a new investigation into Browder, claiming he was involved in Magnitsky's death and pledging to request another Interpol arrest warrant.
"This hypothesis is highly likely to be true because Magnitsky was one of the closest accomplices of Browder in the crimes committed earlier," said Mikhail Alexandrov, a spokesman for the Russian prosecutor general.
Browder says the false accusation underscores the need to stop Russia from abusing Interpol.
He was instrumental in campaigning for the United States to adopt the Magnitsky Act, which enables the withholding of visas and the freezing of assets of human rights offenders. Several Russians have been sanctioned under the act, and Browder says Putin is rattled.
"He wants to stop me from advocating for Magnitsky Acts around the world," Browder said Tuesday. "It was his government that ordered a terrorist attack in the U.K. using chemical weapons in Salisbury. It was his government that shot down MH17 [a Malaysian Airlines flight], killing 298 innocent individuals. It was his government that cheated and hacked in elections in the United States and Europe. And to put his representative in charge of the most important international crime-fighting organization is like putting the mafia in charge."
Moscow denies involvement in those crimes.
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators has written to Interpol to warn against the appointment of Prokopchuk, describing it as "akin to putting a fox in charge of a henhouse." Ukraine and Lithuania have threatened to quit the organization if he is appointed.
Interpol told VOA the president is democratically elected by its members, adding that the role does not involve the day-to-day running of the organization. Interpol did not respond directly to accusations of abuse of its red notice system by the Kremlin.