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Opinion The world can’t let Russia run Interpol. My experiences show why.

A floor with the Interpol logo at the international police agency headquarters in Lyon, France.
A floor with the Interpol logo at the international police agency headquarters in Lyon, France. (Laurent Cirpiani/AP)

William Browder is the author of “Red Notice” and an activist who spearheaded the Global Magnitsky Act.

Early last month, the wife of Meng Hongwei, a Chinese national and the president of Interpol, reported that her husband had disappeared on a trip to China. Three days passed before the Chinese government admitted detaining him and placing him under investigation. Following that, Interpol received a notice of Meng’s resignation. Whether he wrote it or not is unknown.

Last Saturday, news began circulating that a Russian official is the front-runner to replace Meng as president of Interpol. At first, I thought this must be a joke. Russia has demonstrated some of the most criminal tendencies of any country in the world. Its agents used a military-grade chemical weapon in an attack in Salisbury in Britain. Russian missiles murdered 298 innocents on Flight MH17 over Ukraine. And the Kremlin’s operatives have interfered with elections in the United States and Europe. Russia shouldn’t even be on the list of countries that could provide a leader for Interpol.

China said on Monday it was investigating former Interpol chief Meng Hongwei for bribery and other violations, days after French authorities said the Chinese official had been reported missing by his wife after traveling from France to his home country. (Video: Reuters)

Later this week, Interpol’s general assembly in Dubai will decide who becomes Interpol’s next president. The vote will take place on Wednesday, and the choice is between the Russian interior ministry officer Alexander Prokopchuk and Interpol’s current interim president, a South Korean named Kim Jong Yang.

No one should want to see a Russian elevated to this post, but I have a particular personal interest in seeing that it doesn’t happen.

In 2012, I succeeded in advocating for the U.S. government to pass the Magnitsky Act, named after my colleague Sergei Magnitsky, who was imprisoned by Russian authorities after exposing high-level corruption, and who died in detention after being beaten and denied medical care. This law allows the United States to freeze the assets and ban visas for Russian human rights abusers. Since then, Russian President Vladimir Putin has embarked on a vendetta against me. This has taken a number of forms, including death threats and plans for illegal renditions. But one of the most pernicious has been Moscow’s repeated attempts to misuse Interpol to try to have me arrested and extradited back to Russia, where they will likely torture and kill me.

Moscow first attempted to use Interpol to go after me in May 2013 with a request for an Interpol Red Notice. Interpol rejected this, stating that the Russian request violated Interpol’s constitution, since it was obviously politically motivated. Several months later, the Russians tried again to get a Red Notice for me — and once again, it was rejected.

After two explicit rejections, one might think Russia would give up trying to use Interpol to have me arrested. Instead, the Russians altered their tactics.

In October 2017, the Canadian Parliament unanimously passed its own version of the Magnitsky Act. In response, Putin’s government went after me using something called an Interpol “diffusion notice.” This was also an Interpol arrest warrant, but one that required far less oversight than a Red Notice.

Again, Interpol intervened, declaring it politically motivated.

Then, in May of this year, I was actually arrested in Madrid. I’d been invited there by a senior Spanish prosecutor to give evidence against Russian organized crime and money laundering taking place in Spain and connected to the Magnitsky case. I was arrested at my hotel by Spanish National Police, and released from custody only after Interpol intervened.

In reaction to the Madrid incident, Russia’s most senior law enforcement officer, Yuri Chaika, gave a news conference in Moscow, saying: “We will redouble our efforts to get Bill Browder. . . . He should not sleep peacefully at night.”

On Monday morning, the Russian government went one step further. Officials in Moscow held a news conference at which they absurdly accused me of murdering Sergei Magnitsky himself and described me as the leader of a “transnational criminal group” who needed to be apprehended.

In total, Russia has tried to use Interpol seven times to have me arrested. If there ever was a case for why Russia should not have any authority at Interpol, I am that case.

I am, however, by no means alone. Russia has sought the imprisonment of scores of people connected to Mikhail Khodor­kovsky, the former head of oil giant Yukos and an outspoken Putin critic. It is pursuing the supporters of Alexei Navalny, the Russian anti-corruption activist. Every week I get a call from a new victim of Russia’s abuse of the Interpol system.

I’m working with lawyers and other victims on an initiative to apply Interpol’s own rules to suspend Russia from using the Interpol system. Its serial abuse is well documented and undeniable. It would be an absurd and Kafkaesque scenario if — rather than Russia being suspended — one of Putin’s henchmen were to become the leader of one of the world’s most important law enforcement institutions.

Interpol plays a crucial role in tracking and apprehending fugitives around the world. To allow Interpol to be commandeered by one of the most criminal dictators on the planet serves the interests of no one but the Kremlin.

On Wednesday, all democratic and transparent nations should band together and use their influence to ensure that Interpol does not debase itself by effectively becoming an arm of the Russian mafia.

Read more:

Michael Morell: Putin is afraid of one thing. Make him think it could happen.

Anne Applebaum: Russia is furious. That means the sanctions are working.

Vladi­mir Kara-Murza: Russia is preparing to back out of its last human rights commitments in Europe