Interpol, the International Criminal Police Organization, elected South Korean Kim Jong-yang as its new president, in an unexpected result where Russian Alexander Prokopchuk was hotly tipped to take the post.
The 194-member policing body — which shares intelligence across countries, issues international arrest warrants and conducts searches for missing persons — made the decision during its annual conference in Dubai on Wednesday.
The lead-up to the vote saw Prokopchuk, one of the agency’s four vice presidents and a longtime officer of Russia’s interior ministry, tipped to win.
However, his candidacy spurred widespread condemnation from human rights groups and several countries, who pointed to his track record of issuing “red notices” — or Interpol arrest warrants — for opponents of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Critics say he abused the system by taking advantage of his role to promote the Kremlin’s agenda, which is known for targeting dissidents, activists and members of the press. Moscow has rejected claims of abuse.
A number of Western politicians had expressed their opposition to Prokopchuk’s election, including a group of U.S. senators, which the Kremlin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday amounted to “election meddling.”
“This is probably a certain kind of interference in the electoral process of an international organization,” Peskov told reporters during a conference call.
While the role of Interpol chief is largely ceremonial, the post still carries weight and Prokopchuk’s election would have been considered a powerful win for Russia.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had on Tuesday expressed Washington’s support for Kim. U.K. lawmakers similarly backed the South Korean, while Lithuania, an EU and NATO member which gained independence from Russia in 1990, threatened to abandon Interpol if Prokopchuk became the agency’s head.
The news comes after the resignation of former Interpol president Meng Hongwei, a Chinese national. Hongwei went missing in September after traveling to China, where Chinese authorities now say he is being detained over allegations of bribe-taking.
Kim, who was previously serving as acting president in Meng’s absence, will serve a two-year term.