Interpol picks South Korea's Kim Jong-yang as president

The vote was an unusually closely watched diplomatic event, because of Russia's bid to win agency's presidency

Photo: EPA Kim Jong-yang, acting president of the Lyon-based Interpol, who was elected to head the organisation

International police body Interpol elected South Korean police veteran Kim Jong-yang as its next president on Wednesday. The choice was made during Interpol’s meeting of its 194 member states, in Dubai for their annual congress and the final decision was conducted under strong pressure from US and European diplomats who said choosing the Russian candidate, who had been considered the front-runner, could jeopardise the independence of the world’s largest international policing organization. 

Kim Jong-yang,  57, worked in the South Korean police for more than 20 years before retiring in 2015. He has been elected to succeed China’s Meng Hongwei, who disappeared in September and later resigned after Chinese authorities said he was being investigated for suspected bribery. Kim would be serving a two-year term, even though body’s presidency, a largely ceremonial role, is typically held for four years.

 “Our world is now facing unprecedented changes which present huge challenges to public security and safety,” Kim told Interpol’s general assembly in Dubai, according to the agency’s Twitter. “To overcome them, we need a clear vision: we need to build a bridge to the future.”

After the official Interpol announcement  South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in congratulated Kim on becoming the first South Korean to head the organization.

“We’re very proud. I, together with our people, am sending congratulations,” Moon wrote on Twitter.

The election of the South Korean thwarted a bid by a Vladimir Putin loyalist  Alexander Prokopchuk to become president, following an intense lobbying campaign by the US and European allies. 

The Russian government has tried for years to use Interpol and its global police network to track down and arrest political enemies and dissidents living abroad. Thus, human rights groups said that electing Prokopchuk would be seen as rewarding the Kremlin for those efforts. They added that it would undermine confidence in Interpol and make it susceptible to political interference.

The candidacy of the police major-general and one of Interpol’s four vice-presidents, led to concern all around the Western world, too about the possibility of Russia being able to exploit Interpol’s power.

In Europe former Belgian Prime Minister and European Parliament Member Guy Verhofstadt had said “democratic and free countries may need to develop a parallel organization” if Prokopchuk was elected.

“Russia has consistently misused Interpol to pursue its political opponents,” he said on Twitter on Tuesday.

 In the US, a group of 12 Senators wrote an open letter, arguing against Russia taking over Interpol and claiming that Prokopchuk's election would allow Moscow to abuse Interpol's red notice system to go after political opponents. Later on Senetor Marco Rubio even stressed it was “akin to putting a fox in charge of a henhouse.”

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