The Current

Expel Russia from Interpol, former U.S. ambassador suggests ahead of election

A former U.S. ambassador to Russia says he is “appalled” at the prospect a Russian could soon be the leader of Interpol, arguing the country should instead be kicked out of the international policing organization.

Lawyer says kicking Russia out could make country a ‘safe haven for criminals’

Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, says democratic countries need to stand up to what he claimed is Russia's abuse of Interpol. (David Goldman/Associated Press)

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A former U.S. ambassador to Russia says he is "appalled" at the prospect a Russian could soon be president of Interpol, arguing the country should instead be kicked out of the international policing organization.

"I think their record of abuse suggests that they don't deserve a place at that organization," said Michael McFaul, who served as ambassador from 2012 to 2014 during Barack Obama's presidency.

Interpol is set to elect a new leader to the helm Wednesday after Meng Hongwei, the former president who is also a Chinese government official, was reported missing last month.

Chinese officials say they arrested Hongwei for bribery, while his wife argues he is being persecuted for political reasons.

Interpol president Meng Hongwei delivers his opening address at the Interpol World congress in Singapore in 2017. (Wong Maye-E/Associated Press)

Interpol's vice-president Alexander Prokopchuk, a former major general in Russia's Ministry of the Interior, is one of the leading candidates for the top job.

McFaul warns Prokopchuk's potential election could spell trouble for the organization.

"I think just symbolically, even if he doesn't have a lot of power, it sends the wrong signal and I think will damage the reputation of Interpol," he told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"Why would we want somebody heading up the international police organization when the government and the ministry from which he comes has a very poor track record of adhering [to] and implementing the rule of law back at home?"

As opposition to Prokopchuk mounted, Russia's Ministry of the Interior defended him.

"We see a campaign aimed at discrediting the Russian candidate," it said in a statement, complaining about what it called the unacceptable politicization of Interpol.

If elected, Prokopchuk would carry out his duties solely in Interpol's own interests, the ministry said.

Abuse of Interpol red notices

McFaul is urging democratic states, such as Canada and the U.S, to oppose these kinds of appointments.

"We need more voices pushing back on this abuse because, if we don't, these systems, these international rules, these international organizations are going to fall apart."

On Monday, four U.S. senators jointly urged President Donald Trump to oppose Prokopchuk's candidacy and accused Russia of abusing Interpol to settle scores and harass dissidents by issuing warrants, known as red notices, for their arrest.

Florida-based lawyer Michelle Estlund, who specializes in Interpol red notice cases, says there have been "repeated abuses" of red notices by Russia. 

But generally speaking, she says the majority of red notices are legitimate. 

"The people who come to me for help are not the people who are hiding because they have drug trafficking charges that were legitimately investigated," she said.

"The people who come looking for help to remove red notices are few and far between, relatively speaking."

This Oct.16, 2007 file photo shows the entrance hall of Interpol's headquarters in Lyon, central France. The president of Interpol was reported missing last month. (Laurent Cipriani/Associated Press)

Estlund suggests the best way to deal with abuse of red notices from countries like Russia may be to adjust the level of credibility afforded to Interpol's member countries.

"Right now, they are all afforded the same level of credibility when they're submitting requests for red notices. And Russia is, like some of the other member countries, continually demonstrating that they don't merit that level of trust," she said.

Otherwise, expelling Russia from Interpol, as McFaul recommends, could turn the country into a "safe haven for criminals," she said.

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.

Written by Kirsten Fenn. With files from the Associated Press. Produced by The Current's Alison Masemann and Julie Crysler.


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