Understandably, all of the press coverage of this week’s meeting of the Interpol General Assembly in Dubai has focused on the possibility that Vladimir Putin’s candidate, Russian abuser-in-chief Alexander Prokopchuk, will be elected the next President of Interpol. But that’s not the only election that matters.
The General Assembly is Interpol’s supreme authority. There is no Interpol equivalent of the U.N.’s Security Council. But Interpol does have an Executive Committee. The Committee is composed of four Vice-Presidents and eight Delegates, all from different countries and representing Interpol’s four regions of Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe.
This week, the General Assembly will be electing a new Asian Vice-President, two Delegates from the Americas, one from Asia, one from Africa, and one from Europe.
Unfortunately, of the five Delegates rotating off the Committee, four are from democratic or Western-aligned nations (the U.S., Canada, Singapore, and Belgium)—and South Korea’s Kim Jong Yang, the acting President of Interpol and former Vice-President for Asia, must also be replaced.
The remaining six seats on the Committee are held by three non-democracies (Russia, Algeria, and Moldova), two weak or corrupt democracies (Brazil and Nigeria), and France. If Prokopchuk of Russia wins the Presidency, his seat will also have to be filled.
The bottom line is that, if things go very badly, Interpol’s Committee could be led by a Russian and all but one of its seats could be filled by weak democracies or dictatorships, with France as the only remaining democracy. That outcome seems unlikely — but then, a week ago, few people would have imagined a Russian might be elected Interpol’s President.
The significance of elections to the Committee is often overlooked. But they show which way the wind is blowing, and the next president of Interpol is likely to be drawn from the Committee.
When Meng Hongwei, the Chinese secret policeman and now former President of Interpol, was elected in 2016, commentators were rightly outraged. But almost no one — with one or two exceptions — paid any attention to the election of Prokopchuk to the Executive Committee. In 2016, I wrote:
In a way, the election of Prokopchuk is even worse than that of Hongwei, for Russia is an even more grotesque abuser of Interpol than China. It has repeatedly sought to use Interpol against investors it has robbed, and dissidents who dared to stand up to Vladimir Putin’s thuggish, thieving regime. . . .
Prokopchuk, as the man who leads Russia’s liaison with Interpol, is personally responsible for the abuse. No one in the world had more direct responsibility to stop it. Instead, he facilitated the abuse, and he has been rewarded with a position of power in the organization he perverted.
It’s hard to know how much damage Prokopchuk could do as President of Interpol. The organization is opaque, and the President has few formal responsibilities. But with a supportive Executive Committee behind him, Prokopchuk — in other words, Putin — would have a lot more power than he would alone.
For example, the Committee sets the General Assembly’s agenda. Of course, in theory, the Assembly can override the Committee’s decision. But in practice, it will be very hard to put any reforms before the Assembly if the Committee opposes them.
Or, if the Committee wants to ask the Assembly to decide that a particularly controversial Red Notice request — such as Russia’s harassment of Bill Browder, for example — is legitimate, it has that power. If the Assembly votes as the Committee suggests, this bypasses all of Interpol’s rules. If autocracies run the Committee, Prokopchuk would be a lot closer to having operational control of Interpol.
Electing Prokopchuk would be an indefensible, foolish, and self-destructive decision. But even though the symbolism of the votes on the Committee’s new members is less significant, it matters just as much if not more when it comes to the substance of Interpol’s governance.
An Interpol led by Vladimir Putin would be a bad and dangerous thing. But an Interpol led by Vladimir Putin backed by a compliant Executive Committee would be far, far worse.
This piece originally appeared in Forbes on 11/20/18 https://www.forbes.com/sites/tedbromund/2018/11/20/putins-man-isnt-the-only-candidate-who-matters-at-interpol/#781c65744831