Russia’s ambitions to head international police agency Interpol were dashed Wednesday after delegates chose acting head South Korean Kim Jong Yang to take the role.
Alexander Prokopchuk, a former Russian Interior Ministry official, had been expected to be elected president, but critics opposed his nomination, accusing Moscow of using Interpol’s systems to target and pursue the Kremlin’s political foes.
On Monday a bipartisan group of US senators released a letter saying the election of Prokopchuk would be “akin to putting a fox in charge of a henhouse.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov pointed to the “strong” pressure on the assembly on “the eve of the election.”
“It’s a pity, of course, that our candidate did not win, but on the other hand, if you look at a number of statements from a number of countries on the eve of the elections impartially, then, of course, the pressure was strong, it’s obvious.
However, he conceded that he was “not aware of any facts that could lead to a discussion about their legitimacy. The election took place and this is the result.”
Kim was elected at the 87th session of the organization’s general assembly in Dubai, which gathered around 1,000 senior law enforcement officials from across the globe. Kim will serve as president for the remainder of the current mandate, until 2020.
He pledged to ensure that member countries most in need would receive Interpol’s full support.
“Our world is now facing unprecedented changes which present huge challenges to public security and safety,” Kim said. “To overcome them, we need a clear vision: we need to build a bridge to the future.”
Kim had previously been serving as Interpol’s vice president for Asia since 2015 and was head of the organization’s National Central Bureau in Seoul from 2011 to 2012.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had endorsed Kim, a South Korean police official, to replace Interpol’s former president, Meng Hongwei, who was recently detained on his return to China.
Meng went missing in late September. His wife Grace Meng raised the alarm 10 days later and said she’d received threats via social networks and telephone.
Chinese authorities later announced Meng was being held and investigated for alleged corruption. Meng, who was also a vice minister of public security in China, has been accused of accepting bribes and committing unspecified other crimes.
A statement from Interpol’s Secretary General Jürgen Stock dated October 6 said the organization had requested “clarification” from the Chinese authorities on Meng’s status.
“Interpol’s General Secretariat looks forward to an official response from China’s authorities to address concerns over the President’s well-being,” the statement said.
The following day the international law enforcement agency released another statement, confirming it had received Meng’s resignation.
In his first public comments since Meng disappeared, Stock told a news conference earlier this month that the organization had to accept its former president’s resignation.
“There’s no reason for me to suspect that anything was forced or wrong,” Stock said, according to reports.
On Monday, ahead of the general assembly, Human Rights Watch criticized the police organization’s “curious unconcern about its disappeared ex-chief.”
“This is extremely disappointing and worrying behavior from an organization that is supposed to protect people from abuses of power, not aid and abet such infringements,” a spokesperson for Grace Meng said.
While the president’s role is “to chair the general assembly and executive committee sessions,” rather to run the organization day-to-day, it remains an influential position, according to a statement released by Interpol.
The appointment establishes the agency’s working committees and “has an influence on policy,” Louis Shelley, a transnational crime expert and director of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center at George Mason University, told CNN ahead of Kim’s election.
“It’s not as if it’s just some figurehead,” Shelley said at the time, arguing that, had the Russian been elected it would have “totally (politicized) the organization” turning it into “a political tool of an authoritarian government.”
Prokopchuk’s candidacy also drew criticism from Russia’s embattled opposition. Leading Putin critic Alexei Navalny tweeted earlier this week that his supporters had “suffered from abuse of Interpol for political persecution by Russia.”