A Russian man called Alexander Prokopchuk has been tipped as the most likely candidate to run Interpol, the international crime-fighting body known as “the world’s largest police organisation”.
The position became vacant after the sudden exit of Meng Hongwei, who resigned in October and is being detained and investigated by Chinese authorities over alleged corruption.
But the rumoured appointment has already raised fierce criticism of the Russian government’s abuses of power at home (and abroad), and the impact this could have on freedom of expression.
Russia has been at the centre of a number of international scandals in recent years, accused of suppressing the rights of minority groups, human rights abuses, and the illegal annexation of Crimea.
More recent high profile controversies include interfering in the 2016 US presidential election, while earlier this year two Russian nationals were accused of the nerve agent poisonings of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury.
So here’s what you need to know about Prokopchuk – and what his appointment could mean.
What Is Interpol?
Established in 1923, the politically neutral organisation connects police around the world and counts 194 nations as members.
Its aim is to help police to work together across the globe, to fight offences including human trafficking, genocide, cybercrime, child pornography and organised crime.
It has an annual budget of €113m (£100m).
Who Is Alexander Prokopchuk?
Prokopchuk used to head up Russia’s interior ministry, and is now a vice president at Interpol, representing Europe.
At the helm of Russia’s National Central Bureau – an office held by every Interpol member state – he is believed to have been responsible for the controversial arrests and harassment of British hedge fund manager Bill Browder and a number of other journalists, businessmen and politicians.
What Is The Issue With His Possible Appointment?
There are concerns that Prokopchuk’s appointment could lead the Kremlin to abuse Interpol’s arrest warrant procedure, known as a Red Notice.
Browder, who has openly criticised Russian President Vladimir Putin, was reportedly arrested in May in Spain, with police saying they were acting on a request from Russia. He was later released after the Interpol HQ in Lyon, France, told Spanish authorities to disregard the Russian request.
Since Prokopchuk’s name was thrown into the ring, Browder told the BBC that Interpol shouldn’t put a Putin subordinate in charge of one of “the most important law enforcement” institutions, at a time when Russia is charged with using chemical weapons and hacking elections.
Browder has campaigned for sanctions against Russian officials charged with human rights abuses after his former lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, died in custody in 2009.
On Tuesday, Commons Home Affairs Committee chair Yvette Cooper and chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Tugendhat, wrote to the Foreign Office and Home Office, calling for a new transnational organisation to replace Interpol.
The MPs expressed “deep concern” at the potential appointment, adding that Russia is among a number of states that have abused the system.
“Since it can be a ‘crime’ in member states like Russia, Iran or Venezuela to engage in anti-government activism or even just journalism, these states have abused the Interpol system to their political ends,” the letter read.
They added that the Red Notice procedure had been used as an “instrument of persecution”.
Russia denies abusing the international arrest warrant system.
A cross-party group of US senators have also condemned the potential choice, saying the decision would be “akin to putting a fox in a henhouse”.
Currently, there are some 57,289 red notices are active around the world.
Who Are The Other Contenders?
There is one other contender running against Prokopchuk for the job – Kim Jong Yang, the acting head of Interpol from South Korea.
South Africa may also put forward a candidate, according the The Times.
Whoever is appointed will run until the end of the current mandate, which ends in 2020.
More than 1,000 delegates will meet at the four-day event in Dubai, the 87th annual gathering of its kind where major discussions are held on issues including finances and working methods.