Interpol elected a South Korean police official as its president, rejecting a Russian general whose candidacy had drawn strong opposition from Western politicians and rights groups over concern that Moscow could use the police agency to pursue political opponents, according to a Dow Jones Newswires report made available to EFE on Wednesday.
The choice of Kim Jong-yang, a veteran South Korean police official, however, didn't put to rest fresh calls for reform of Interpol, which critics say has been abused by authoritarian regimes.
In Sept., Interpol's former president, Meng Hongwei, disappeared; days later, Chinese authorities said they had arrested him on charges of alleged corruption.
In recent days, Western officials, including in the United States, raised the alarm over the candidacy of Maj. Gen. Alexander Prokopchuk, a veteran Russian interior minister.
Pointing to Moscow's record of using Interpol warrants to target dissidents, they worried Prokopchuk could facilitate the Kremlin's use of Interpol arrest warrants, known as red notices, to go after political opponents.
A letter from a group of US senators said appointing Prokopchuk would be "akin to putting a fox in charge of a henhouse."
Following Wednesday's election of Kim, the Kremlin denounced what it described as a campaign against Prokopchuk. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the vote was marred by political interference and was undertaken in "an atmosphere of unprecedented pressure." He added that Moscow won't contest the vote's legitimacy.
Kim's selection required a two-thirds majority of votes from Interpol's 192 member countries.
While Prokopchuk's bid for the presidency failed, he nonetheless remains the vice president representing Europe on Interpol's executive committee.
He has headed Interpol's Russian bureau since 2011.
"Very important news for rule of law internationally and encouraging that in a secret ballot this was so widely recognized," said United Kingdom Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt in a tweet Wednesday.
British officials had been especially vocal in their concern over Prokopchuk's candidacy this week.
Despite Prokopchuk's defeat, some critics said Interpol needed deeper structural reform to prevent abuse by Russia, China, India, Turkey and other countries.
The number of red notices issued has risen from around 3,000 in 2007 to more than 13,000 in 2017, a phenomenon some attribute to a lack of checks on the process or penalties for notices later found to be improper.
Red notices are Interpol requests to arrest people pending their extradition to the country where they are accused of committing crimes.
Countries aren't required to honor the requests, but people targeted with red notices are publicly named and may face travel and banking restrictions.
Under Kim, Interpol now faces pressure to reassure member states that it is a neutral institution, Dow Jones added in a report made available to EFE.
Among other suggested changes, some want the agency to dole out harsher penalties on countries that issue red notices for political ends.
"Without the imposition of a tangible penalty for those states that abuse the system, Interpol will remain a tool at the disposal of despots," Rebecca Niblock, a criminal litigation partner at London law firm Kingsley Napley LLC, said in a statement.
Former businessman-turned-Kremlin-critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky called the vote result a victory. "The Kremlin was trying to get their man in - the one that has been helping the authorities for many years to persecute their opponents," he said.
Interpol has defended its process in the past, saying red notice requests are thoroughly vetted.
Kim, 57, is a police officer who has been a senior vice president at Interpol since 2015 and served as interim president after Meng's resignation.
Russian lawmakers said the US and other pro-Western countries were to blame for Gen. Prokopchuk's loss. "This is an outright example of election interference that the Americans carried out," said Vladimir Jabarov, who sits on a parliamentary foreign affairs committee.
Before the vote, the Trump administration declined to say publicly whom it supported, and it wasn't immediately clear which candidate got the US's vote on Wednesday.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said at the assembly in Dubai on Sunday that the body's choices would attest to whether member countries were true to the values they professed.
Attempts to reach US officials in Abu Dhabi for comment weren't immediately successful.
As president, Kim will oversee Interpol's executive committee until the next general assembly election in 2020, when he isn't eligible for re-election.
The agency's day-to-day affairs are overseen by German secretary-general Jurgen Stock from its global headquarters in Lyon, France.
By Asa Fitch in Dubai and Thomas Grove in Moscow