Why Russia’s Interpol Loss is a Win for Ukraine
22 November, 2018

Russia’s Interior Ministry official Alexander Prokopchuk has lost out on the top position within International Criminal Police Organization Interpol after the General Assembly elected South Korea’s Kim Jong Yang as president in Dubai on November 21.

Prokopchuk was expected to get the job but lost to Kim following significant opposition from both US and European officials. Prokopchuk’s loss has been hailed as a win for Ukraine, with the country’s foreign ministry welcoming the November 21 decision in Dubai. The ministry said it had been campaigning in an effort to prevent Russia from interfering with Interpol and undermining the international organization. Prokopchuk, who has previously been accused of abusing Interpol’s “red notice” system, remains a vice president within the organization. 

Who is Alexander Prokopchuk?​

The 57-year-old Ukrainian-born started his career working in communist organizations, notably the Zhytomyr Komsomol Regional Committee. In 1986 he moved to Moscow and in the early 90s organized international student exchanges. A decade after the move, he joined Russia’s tax and law enforcement agencies. He then received a diploma specializing in “jurisprudence”  from the All-Russian State Tax Academy. 

Photo credit: Interpol

He began working for internal affairs bodies in 2003. For a period of time he was head of the federal service for economic and tax crimes which, the Financial Times reports, is one of Russia’s most corrupt sectors. Prokopchuk later became a major general of the Soviet police force militsiya, and then the police. 

His work with Interpol dates back to 2006. It was then that he became deputy chairman of Russia’s Interpol Bureau. In 2011 he became its head. For 10 years he also headed the relations department of Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and the European Union police.

In November 2016, Prokopchuk was elected vice-president of Interpol at the organization’s general assembly. He was the first Russian citizen to take on such a high position since Russia joined Interpol. The Soviet Union was accepted into the organization in 1990, and the Russian Interpol Bureau became its successor following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Why was Europe Against This Appointment?

British daily The Times and other media dubbed Prokopchuk as a “favorite” in the fight for Interpol’s top job. However, many opposed his election because of controversial moments in his career. Particular opposition has come from former British Foreign Minister’s special adviser David Clark and European Parliament Member Rebecca Harms, as well as the international non-governmental organization Fair Trials.

All of them accuse Prokopchuk of violating Interpol rules, namely of abusing “red notices”. These are reports that a particular country is looking for a specific person charged with a criminal offense. It contains the name, date of birth, nationality and photo of the person, as well as information about what they are accused of. Thanks to these reports, an Interpol member state can learn that a criminal is trying to cross its border. Then the state can arrest the individual, block their accounts and extradite them to a country where they are wanted.

Prokopchuk, in his work for Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, has been accused of sending fabricated “red notices” to Interpol for people whom Russia was pursuing for political reasons- meaning opponents of the current government.

Lawyer Ben Kot, who specializes in Interpol's “red notices,” was quoted in The Times saying that they were often abused by “unprincipled regimes”, because Interpol does not have an internal system of checks and balances.

Who Was Russia Illegally Searching For?

Russia wrote out red notices for British American financier and Kremlin critic Bill Browder, for whom lawyer Sergei Magnitsky worked before he died in a Russian prison. Browder was looking for Magnitsky’s murderers and accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of economic crimes. It was thanks to a red notice that he was arrested in Spain. He was later released.

Spain also detained and subsequently released a Russian journalist and environmental activist Peter Silaev, who was protesting the destruction of the Khimki forest, because it recognized that the case against him was politically motivated.

Because of a red notice, Denmark detained Chechen politician Akhmed Zakayev, a representative of the the unrecognised Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, for a month. Among other things, Russia accused him of murdering a man who, it turned out, was alive.

Nikita Kulachenkov, a Russian anti-corruption activist and ally of fellow activist Alexei Navalny, was arrested in Cyprus, where he was visiting family. However, he was not extradited to Russia because of the politically motivated charges.

For the same reason, Interpol refused to declare Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who had already been pardoned by Putin, as wanted and former Moscow anti-doping laboratory chair Grigory Rodchenkov, whom the Russian authorities accused of secretly providing doping to athletes.

Russia also tried to start an international search for Ukrainian politician and former prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk (who they claim fought in Chechnya in the 1990s), former Right Sector leader Dmytro Yarosh (for, in their words, “relation to terrorism and extremism”) and oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi.

/By Liza Sivets

/Translated and adapted by Natalie Vikhrov