Kremlin Takeover of Interpol a Threat to Global Democracy

November 19, 2018
Aleksandr Prokopchuk. Photo: Valery Sharifulin / TASS

On Wednesday the 192 members of the Interpol General Assembly are set to vote for the new head of the international police agency. At the 87th Session of the Interpol General Assembly members will elect a new president, after former president Meng Hongwei was detained by Chinese authorities.

It is widely reported that Aleksandr Prokopchuk is set to be Mr. Hongwei’s replacement. Mr Prokopchuk is the current vice-president of Interpol and was, until 2016, the representative of the Russian Interior Ministry at Interpol. The appointment of this high-ranking Kremlin official should be of serious concern to leaders of democratic countries.

During the years 2006 to 2016, Mr Prokopchuk was a senior representative of the Russian Interior Ministry at the Interpol Bureau in Moscow. As such, Mr. Prokopchuk is responsible for the numerous international warrant requests made by the Kremlin to Interpol. What is more, the Kremlin has repeatedly used the Interpol warrant system to achieve its political goals, rather than to bring criminals to justice.

Warrants issued via Interpol fall under the category of either a red notice or diffusion. The most notable case of the Kremlin using Interpol for its own gain happened in Spring 2018, when the head of the Global Magnitsky Justice campaign Bill Browder was arrested in Spain, after the Kremlin issued a diffusion notice against him.

Mr. Browder became a Kremlin target after his associate Sergei Magnitsky uncovered a $230 million corruption scandal. Mr. Magnitsky was himself then accused by the Russian General Prosecutor of stealing $230 million, which resulted in his imprisonment. Mr. Magnitsky was then murdered during his incarceration. Mr. Browder has played a key role in the creation of the Magnitsky Act, which enables nations to freeze assets of foreign individuals who commit crimes outside of the jurisdiction of the country in which their assets are situated.

The Kremlin has also attempted to have Interpol warrants issued against various other individuals. The founder of the Open Russia Movement Mikhail Khodorkovsky was one of these; as was his former YUKOS colleague Leonid Nevzlin. Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Arsene Yatsenyuk and the head of the Moscow Anti-Doping Agency Grigorii Rodchenkov were also targeted by the Kremlin warrants.

These numerous examples demonstrate to what extent the Putin regime abuses the powers of Interpol’s international warrants in order to achieve its political goals. Therefore, it is imperative that Western leaders address the Interpol election or take action in the event that Kremlin official Mr. Prokopchuk is elected.

The UK and US governments have previously called for Interpol to restrict the ability of the Kremlin to use the international warrant service. Officials in the US congress are also advocating for a change to political asylum laws for individuals with red notices against them. Currently, those with red notices against them rarely qualify for political asylum because asylum laws require that applicants are not fleeing their country due to crimes they have committed.

The Kremlin usually charges its political opponents with criminal charges in order to prevent them from being granted asylum status abroad. Similarly, once an Interpol warrant has been issued it is extremely difficult for an individual to have their name removed from the list. Also, the Interpol database is accessible to all 192 members of organization, the majority of which pay little regard to human rights.

All things considered, the election of a Kremlin politician to the position of head of Interpol will be detrimental not only to the organisation itself, but to democracy activists and freedom fighters worldwide, who are likely to suffer personally from Kremlin rule over Interpol.