It's strange enough that the Chinese head of Interpol suddenly resigned last month, vanished for three days, and the resurfaced as a detained "guest" of Beijing's government. But now the Russians are suddenly in the driver's seat to replace him as the new head of the world's biggest police agency, and as Magnitsky Act activist Bill Browder writes, Vladimir Putin appears to be pulling off a bloodless international coup under everyone's noses.
Early last month, the wife of Meng Hongwei, a Chinese national and the president of Interpol, reported that her husband had disappeared on a trip to China. Three days passed before the Chinese government admitted detaining him and placing him under investigation. Following that, Interpol received a notice of Meng’s resignation. Whether he wrote it or not is unknown.
Last Saturday, news began circulating that a Russian official is the front-runner to replace Meng as president of Interpol. At first, I thought this must be a joke. Russia has demonstrated some of the most criminal tendencies of any country in the world. Its agents used a military-grade chemical weapon in an attack in Salisbury in Britain. Russian missiles murdered 298 innocents on Flight MH17 over Ukraine. And the Kremlin’s operatives have interfered with elections in the United States and Europe. Russia shouldn’t even be on the list of countries that could provide a leader for Interpol.
Later this week, Interpol’s general assembly in Dubai will decide who becomes Interpol’s next president. The vote will take place on Wednesday, and the choice is between the Russian interior ministry officer Alexander Prokopchuk and Interpol’s current interim president, a South Korean named Kim Jong Yang.
No one should want to see a Russian elevated to this post, but I have a particular personal interest in seeing that it doesn’t happen.
In 2012, I succeeded in advocating for the U.S. government to pass the Magnitsky Act, named after my colleague Sergei Magnitsky, who was imprisoned by Russian authorities after exposing high-level corruption, and who died in detention after being beaten and denied medical care. This law allows the United States to freeze the assets and ban visas for Russian human rights abusers. Since then, Russian President Vladimir Putin has embarked on a vendetta against me. This has taken a number of forms, including death threats and plans for illegal renditions. But one of the most pernicious has been Moscow’s repeated attempts to misuse Interpol to try to have me arrested and extradited back to Russia, where they will likely torture and kill me.
Moscow first attempted to use Interpol to go after me in May 2013 with a request for an Interpol Red Notice. Interpol rejected this, stating that the Russian request violated Interpol’s constitution, since it was obviously politically motivated. Several months later, the Russians tried again to get a Red Notice for me — and once again, it was rejected.
After two explicit rejections, one might think Russia would give up trying to use Interpol to have me arrested. Instead, the Russians altered their tactics.
In October 2017, the Canadian Parliament unanimously passed its own version of the Magnitsky Act. In response, Putin’s government went after me using something called an Interpol “diffusion notice.” This was also an Interpol arrest warrant, but one that required far less oversight than a Red Notice.
Again, Interpol intervened, declaring it politically motivated.
Then, in May of this year, I was actually arrested in Madrid. I’d been invited there by a senior Spanish prosecutor to give evidence against Russian organized crime and money laundering taking place in Spain and connected to the Magnitsky case. I was arrested at my hotel by Spanish National Police, and released from custody only after Interpol intervened.
In reaction to the Madrid incident, Russia’s most senior law enforcement officer, Yuri Chaika, gave a news conference in Moscow, saying: “We will redouble our efforts to get Bill Browder. . . . He should not sleep peacefully at night.”
On Monday morning, the Russian government went one step further. Officials in Moscow held a news conference at which they absurdly accused me of murdering Sergei Magnitsky himself and described me as the leader of a “transnational criminal group” who needed to be apprehended.
In total, Russia has tried to use Interpol seven times to have me arrested. If there ever was a case for why Russia should not have any authority at Interpol, I am that case.
Bill Browder won't make it to 2019 as a free man if Alexander Prokopchuk is voted in as head of Interpol, that much seems certain. Interpol is used to help hunt down criminals, not political dissidents, reporters, and whistleblowers, but if Putin gets his hands on Interpol, he will use it to do just that.
Turkey has also been using Interpol as its personal dissident arrest squad since Ergodan consolidated power in the failed coup attempt against him in July 2016, issuing piles of "red notices" to round up political enemies.
Up until now, Interpol has been resisting this sort of clearly political behavior. But unless you believe Bill Browder is an international terrorist who killed Sergei Magintsky and is really the dastardly mastermind behind all of Putin's recent European assassinations of former Russian agents, Putin getting full control of Interpol will be a complete nightmare.
Something Trump of course won't bat an eyelash at.