Imagine an alternative history of New York City in which John Gotti becomes police commissioner and obtains arrest warrants for the U.S. attorneys who prosecuted the Gambino crime family. Something like that is on the verge of happening to the international law-enforcement organization known as Interpol.
On Wednesday, delegates to Interpol’s annual convention will be casting votes on its next president after China disappeared its last one, Meng Hongwei, in September. Meng’s wife says she has not heard from him since he flew to Beijing two months ago, and she fears he is dead.
This incident put Interpol on life support. Now Interpol’s member states are reportedly poised to elect a former senior official at Russia’s interior ministry, Alexander Prokopchuk, to replace Meng. His victory would pull the plug on Interpol.
It’s not just that Russia itself has abused Interpol’s system of issuing notices for arrest warrants to the national police of member states, known as red notices. “There is literally no one in the world who bears a more direct and personal responsibility for Russia’s abuse of Interpol than Alexander Prokopchuk,” writes the Heritage Foundation’s Ted Bromund. Prokopchuk heads the government bureau that sends law-enforcement information from Russia to Interpol.
The most famous victim of this kind of abuse is the hedge fund manager William Browder. Browder’s lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, died in a Russian prison in 2009 after exposing embezzlement by government officials. Browder then lobbied, tirelessly and successfully, for the Magnitsky Act, which imposes sanctions against government officials who commit grave human-rights abuses. Russia has issued red notices for Browder, an American-born citizen of the U.K.
Meanwhile, Russia has failed to arrest the many officials already named and shamed through these Magnitsky sanctions. In fact on the eve of the Interpol vote, a Russian prosecutor filed new charges against Browder, accusing him of running a multinational money-laundering operation. In an added flourish, Russian prosecutors said it was likely that Browder himself had poisoned his own lawyer.
Already Ukraine has threatened to leave Interpol if Prokopchuk is elected as its next president. The U.S. and its allies should do the same. Western democracies still provide nearly 80 percent of Interpol’s annual budget. That money would be better spent as seed funding for a new international law-enforcement organization that bans officials from corrupt authoritarian states, instead of electing them to leadership positions.
Even if Prokopchuk is defeated this week, the damage to Interpol is already done. Just last month, another authoritarian state kidnapped and disappeared the previous Interpol president. So far China has paid no price for this crime. The fact that Prokopchuk has come this close suggests the rot inside Interpol is irreversible.
Time to start over. When Nazis took over the leadership of Interpol’s predecessor, known as the International Criminal Police Congress, most nations withdrew their membership. Interpol was reborn in 1946 after the Nazis were defeated in World War II.
There is still a need for an international organization that enables police agencies to share information. Interpol is no longer that organization. So America should lead the effort to build a new one. One of its first acts should be to issue a red notice for Alexander Prokopchuk, for impersonating a cop. Eli Lake, Bloomberg