(Updated: Wednesday morning in Dubai, INTERPOL elected South Korea's Kim Jong Yang its new president. This fact check is updated with the new information).
On November 20, the website of the Russian state-owned media outlet RT posted an article in its “news” section citing a joint public statement made by several U.S. Senators opposing the possibility of a Russian heading the International Criminal Police Organization, or INTERPOL. Alexander Prokopchuk, a former Russian Interior Ministry major-general, is the favored candidate to take charge of the international policing body after the previous president, Meng Hongwei, was arrested in his home country of China in connection with a corruption investigation.
RT reported that Russian Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov had called the U.S. lawmakers’ statement an attempt to interfere in INTERPOL’s electoral process.
“Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov blasted the U.S. senators’ appeal not to support Prokopchuk as ‘intervention in the voting process’ and an attempt to exert pressure on Interpol,” the RT article stated.
The Russian state news agency TASS reported Peskov’s statements in more detail.
"Probably, this is a kind of interference in the electoral process, in the elections of an international organization,” TASS quoted Peskov as telling reporters. “What else can it be considered? Here is a graphic display (of intervention)."
The RT article quoted the bipartisan group of U.S. senators as saying that Russia has abused INTERPOL for the purpose "settling scores and harassing political opponents, dissidents and journalists." It added that the lawmakers did not offer “concrete examples.” Yet, later in the article, RT actually mentioned the well-known case of Bill Browder although it distorted the facts of his case.
Browder, a U.S.-born businessman who was once the biggest foreign investor in the Russian stock market but barred entry to the country in 2005, was convicted by Russia in absentia in a case roundly criticized as political. Browder was also detained, in the past, due to Russian use of INTERPOL’s red notice system. While Browder is a British citizen, the tactic has been detected in the U.S. as well.The Atlantic magazine documented three cases of questionable red notices filed with INTERPOL by Russia in the U.S.
An INTERPOL red notice alerts law enforcement and customs in participating jurisdictions to “seek the location and arrest of wanted persons with a view to extradition or similar lawful action,” according to the organization’s official website. It was for this reason that Bill Browder was briefly detained in Spain on May 30 of this year.
The claim that U.S. senators voicing their concerns about Prokopchuk possibly becoming the president of INTERPOL constitutes interference in the organization's voting process is false. Senators are elected members of one of three branches of the U.S. government and their statement urges action by the U.S. diplomats.
“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.” wrote the senators, all members of the Helsinki Commission, a U.S. government agency that promotes human rights and military security in Europe, Eurasia and North America.
The RT claim is also hypocritical, considering that TASS ran an article the same day the RT piece was published, reporting that Serbian President Alexander Vucic praised the representatives of countries who planned to vote for the Russian candidate to head INTERPOL.
"I thank the countries that voted for us or abstained, despite the powerful pressure of the West,” TASS quoted Vucic as saying at a press conference. “We will never forget the support and friendship of these countries."
Nowhere in the article is any indication that Vucic’s statement constituted interference in the voting process. Even the RT article noted that Peskov admitted Moscow was “rooting” for its candidate and that the Kremlin “would like to see him win the election.”
The U.S. senators urged INTERPOL’s 192 members to vote against Prokopchuk, noting that he “…has been particularly involved in the Kremlin’s continued harassment campaign” as head of the INTERPOL National Central Bureau (NCB) for Russia since 2011.
Wednesday, November 21 in Dubai, INTERPOL's annual congress voted to elect South Korea's Kim Jong Yang its new president -- reportedly by a wide margin. VOA News reported the outcome was something of a surprise. The vote followed a chorus of Western voices urging the international agency not to hand the presidency over to the Russian. In the U.S., late Tuesday, the U.S. secretary of state joined senators in urging the votge for Kim.