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Senators Warn Election of Russian INTERPOL Chief Would Put Safety of Kremlin Critics at Risk

Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, right, and financier William Browder attend a joint press conference in London on Nov. 20, 2018, to warn about naming a top Russian police official to lead Interpol. (AP Photo)

WASHINGTON — Members of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, warned that if Russia gains control of INTERPOL critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin living outside the country could be at risk.

Delegates at the police agency’s general assembly meeting in Dubai will cast votes on Wednesday to pick the next president of the organization, which includes 192 voting member countries. The last INTERPOL president, Meng Hongwei, disappeared in September while being investigated by Chinese authorities.

A top candidate in the race is Alexander Prokopchuk, a former Russian interior ministry official. Russia has already been using the INTERPOL Red Notice system to try to capture critics of the Putin regime, including Bill Browder, who championed Magnitsky Act human rights sanctions around the world after his lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, was killed after uncovering massive Kremlin corruption. Browder was briefly detained in May on a Russia arrest warrant until Spanish police realized it was baseless.

“If a Russian becomes the president of Interpol it means there’s a pretty good chance they will finally be able to get a Red Notice for me … which is Vladimir Putin’s exact objective. He wants to stop me from advocating for Magnitsky acts around the world,” Browder said.

Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.), both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee along with Helsinki commissioners and advocates of Magnitsky sanctions, said in a joint statement today that “it is unconscionable that a representative of the Russian state would be named as the next President of the world’s international police organization.”

“The Kremlin has ordered and executed extrajudicial killings abroad and has used chemical weapons on the soil of a NATO ally,” Cardin and Gardner said. “To allow a tool of Vladimir Putin to run INTERPOL would undermine international law and invite further Russian abuses.”

“We call on the administration to take every appropriate step to prevent the Kremlin from taking over this important organization and renew our call for the State Department to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism under U.S. law,” they added.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, at a press conference today, pushed for the election of South Korean Kim Jong Yang, who has been serving as the agency’s acting president.

“We encourage all nations and organizations that are part of INTERPOL and that respect the rule of law to choose a leader with credibility and integrity that reflects one of the world’s most critical law enforcement bodies,” Pompeo said. “We believe Mr. Kim will be just that.”

On Monday, Helsinki Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) along with Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said a Prokopchuk victory would be “akin to putting a fox in charge of a henhouse.”

“Russia routinely abuses Interpol for the purpose of settling scores and harassing political opponents, dissidents and journalists,” they said in a joint statement. “Alexander Prokopchuk has been personally involved in this intimidation strategy which ultimately seeks to weaken democratic institutions and embolden Putin’s authoritarian regime. If elected as president by the members of Interpol’s General Assembly on Wednesday, we have no doubt that Mr. Prokopchuk will further institutionalize the abuse of Interpol Red Notices and block ongoing efforts at meaningful reform.”

The senators added that “the potential access he would gain to sensitive law enforcement data will bolster the Kremlin’s ability to harass critics living outside of Russia and aid other authoritarian regimes seeking to do the same.”

“For these reasons, we urge all 192 members to stand for the integrity of Interpol as a legitimate international law enforcement mechanism and vote against Mr. Prokopchuk. We continue to call on our administration to use its voice, vote and influence to ensure that INTERPOL can no longer be co-opted by Putin and other dictators for their own nefarious purposes.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call that the senators were engaged in “a certain kind of interference in the electoral process of an international organization.”