DUBAI—International police organization Interpol has elected Kim Jong-yang of South Korea as president, defeating a Russian whose candidacy had raised concerns in Europe and the United States about the risk of Kremlin interference.
Interpol’s Secretary-General Jürgen Stock told reporters that Kim’s election was free and transparent, as Russia said outside pressure had clearly been exerted on the vote.
The president is elected by winning a two-thirds majority among members in a secret ballot, according to Interpol’s website.
Kim was elected to the largely ceremonial role at Interpol’s annual congress in Dubai. While the presidency is typically held for four years, he will serve until 2020. Kim, who had been acting president, is completing the term of Meng Hongwei of China, which was due to end in 2020.
Meng disappeared in September during a visit to China, from where he sent a letter to Interpol announcing his resignation. Days after his wife reported him missing, Chinese authorities said he was under investigation.
Kim, who had been acting president, won’t be able to seek a second term under Interpol rules, which limit the presidency to a single term, said Stock.
“The general assembly elected Mr. Kim from Korea as president through a voting process which was democratic, transparent, free, and clear,” said Stock, a German who heads day-to-day work at Interpol.
U.S. and European politicians and Kremlin critics had lobbied against the candidacy of Alexander Prokopchuk of Russia, a police major-general and one of Interpol’s four vice-presidents.
“No matter … what the nationality of the presidency is, it is not affecting Interpol’s neutrality and the independence of our organization,” said Stock.
Interpol’s role is to facilitate cooperation between police forces around the world. Its charter forbids it from involving itself in disputes of a political, religious, or racial nature. It isn’t a supranational police force and has no agents who are allowed to make arrests.
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators this week accused Russia of exploiting the global body to settle scores and harass dissidents by issuing warrants, known as red notices, for their arrest.
“Let me be crystal clear, the members of the executive committee, including the president, have absolutely no involvement or influence in the task-force review or decision-making process,” Stock said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, “We regret that it wasn’t our candidate, but nonetheless, there are no grounds to disagree with the election result.”
Prokopchuk declined to comment.
Kim, 57, worked in the South Korean police for more than 20 years before retiring in 2015.
“Our world is now facing unprecedented changes which present huge challenges to public security and safety,” Kim said in a statement. “To overcome them, we need a clear vision: we need to build a bridge to the future.”
South Korean President Moon Jae-in congratulated Kim on becoming the first South Korean to head the organization.
Meanwhile, the Pacific Island nations of Vanuatu and Kiribati were approved this week as new Interpol member countries, while Kosovo’s bid was denied, bringing the total number of member states to 194. A number of countries including Serbia don’t recognize Kosovo’s independence from Belgrade, declared in 2008.
By Alexander Cornwell