Interpol, the international police clearinghouse, has tried in recent years to stop authoritarian regimes from misusing its global network to seize dissidents and critics. It launched promising reforms, but they need more time and commitment. That is why the organization should not elevate its current Russian vice president to become its leader. Russia has been one of the most egregious abusers of the Red Notice and "diffusion" arrest notices in the Interpol system.
The organization's general assembly meets in Dubai this week to pick a successor to Meng Hongwei of China, who was named president in 2016 but was unceremoniously recalled to Beijing last month and then disappeared. His departure was entirely without due process, supposedly because he was ensnared in a corruption investigation. Meng sent a text message with a knife emoji to his wife in France, and a letter of resignation was submitted to Interpol.
Interpol's unquestioning acceptance of that letter has hurt its credibility. Now, one of the current Interpol vice presidents, Alexander Prokopchuk of Russia, is reportedly the leading candidate to replace Meng. Throughout President Vladimir Putin's years in power, Prokopchuk has worked in the security services, primarily the interior ministry, which has police functions, and he has been in the thick of Russia's abuses of Interpol, as deputy and then chief of Russia's National Central Bureau, a liaison group that exists in each country.
Russia has attempted seven times to use Interpol to apprehend William Browder, once the largest private-equity investor in Russia and a crusader against corporate fraud. Browder's lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who unearthed a huge fraud, was arrested by Russian authorities, beaten and left to die in prison in 2009. Browder championed the Magnitsky Act in the United States and elsewhere as an instrument to pursue and punish those involved in human rights abuses. Russia has often put him in its crosshairs. Just this week, prosecutors announced they would go after Browder for allegedly poisoning his own lawyer and two other people, among other absurd claims.
Russia today is governed not by rule of law but by Putin at the apex of a power structure built on his cronies and competing clans, among them the security services. This is the system that sent killers to murder another Putin critic with radioactive polonium; that sent people to smear nerve agent on the door handle of a former Russian intelligence officer in Salisbury, England; that lent a hand to systematic doping in the 2014 Winter Olympics; that ignited a violent subversion of Ukraine; and that attempted to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election through hacking and malign exploitation of social media. This is not a system that respects rule of law.
To appoint Prokopchuk to the presidency of Interpol would be a colossal mistake and would imperil the organization's integrity.
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