Two of the Kremlin’s most prominent critics have joined forces to try to stop a Russian becoming the next president of international police organisation Interpol, saying they feared Moscow would abuse the post to hunt down its detractors.
Interpol’s general assembly is due to elect a new president on Wednesday after incumbent Meng Hongwei of China went missing in September.
Beijing later said it had detained him in connection with a bribery probe.
The battle to succeed him turned political after Alexander Prokopchuk, a former major general in Russia’s Ministry of the Interior, emerged as one of the favourites to get the job, a prospect that alarmed critics of President Vladimir Putin.
Russian dissident and former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky on Tuesday gave a news conference in London alongside US-born Kremlin critic Bill Browder at which both warned against Prokopchuk’s election, saying it would make it easier for the Kremlin to manipulate Interpol. Moscow has rejected such claims.
“Appointing such a person to the head of the international policing organisation would not only damage the reputation of all Interpol member states, but would carry a grave threat to those who may be considered potential victims of political persecution,” said Khodorkovsky.
Putin freed Khodorkovsky in 2013 after he had spent a decade in jail for fraud, a charge Khodorkovsky said was fabricated to punish him for funding political opposition to Putin. The president has said he regards the businessman as a common thief.
Browder, the head of investment fund Hermitage Capital Management, has led a campaign to expose corruption and punish Russian officials he blames for the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in 2009 in a Moscow prison.
“If a Russian is president of this organisation the Russian will be acting on the instructions of Vladimir Putin,” said Browder, who used to support the president before becoming one of his most implacable international critics.
“To put his representative in charge of the most important international crime fighting organisation is like putting the mafia in charge,” said Browder.
Russian prosecutors said on Monday they suspected Browder of ordering a string of murders, including of Magnitsky, in a twist the financier dismissed as ludicrous.
On Monday, four US 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.
Browder was briefly detained by Spanish police in May on a Russian Interpol red notice that was then deemed invalid.
The Kremlin said on Tuesday that opposition to Prokopchuk’s candidacy by US senators amounted to election meddling.
Interpol’s 194 member states each have a vote in Wednesday’s election in Dubai, it said on its website. The winner will serve the last two years of Meng Hongwei’s original four-year mandate.