Interpol elected a South Korean as president on Wednesday amid strong the opposition of the US and its allies to Russian frontrunner, agency reports say.
A tweet from Interpol said interim president Kim Jong-yang was elected to a two-year term in a vote on Wednesday. He defeated Interpol vice president and Kremlin insider Aleksandr Prokopchuk in the election that took place in Dubai.
Kim takes the place of Chinese Meng Hongwei, who purportedly resigned as president in absentia after reports said he was in the custody of Chinese authorities over a corruption probe.
Meng was a public security vice minister in the Chinese government and his wife has alleged foul play over the detention of Meng, who was initially reported missing while on a trip to China.
After the election result's announcement, Russia's Interior Ministry said that Prokopchuk would continue to serve as Interpol's vice president. "Prokopchuk will continue to serve as the Interpol vice president representing Europe," Ministry spokesperson Irina Volk told Russian media, adding that his activity would focus on "heightening the organisation's effectiveness."
Russia's critics and Western lawmakers had raised an alarm about the prospect of Prokopchuk, a Russian police general who was an Interpol vice president, succeeding Meng to the key post. Prokopchuk was a known Kremlin insider the President Vladimir Putin's supporter.
Kremlin critics were of the view that a Putin loyalist at the helm of the Lyon, France-based international police agency, represented by 192 nations, would be dangerous in view of widespread allegation that Moscow had a record of using its officers placed at international agencies to pursue political dissidents.
In the run-up to the election, the Kremlin had denounced a group of US senators for interfering in the Interpol election, Irish Times newspaper reported.
Four US senators on Monday accused Russia of abusing Interpol by issuing international arrest warrants known as "red notices" to try to detain its political opponents, the newspaper said. In an open letter, the senators called on Interpol member states to vote against Prokopchuk, saying his appointment as head of Interpol would be like "putting a fox in charge of a henhouse", the newspaper said.
The Kremlin on Tuesday slammed the US senators for election meddling. "This is probably some kind of interference in the electoral process of an international organisation," Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin's spokesman, told reporters in Moscow. "Of course we are rooting for the Russian candidate."
Two major Kremlin critics – former Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and investor Bill Browder, who has now become a campaigner against Russian human rights abuses – had warned that electing Prokopchuk would have undermined Interpol's credibility and politicise police cooperation across borders.
US National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis said that "the Russian government abuses Interpol's processes to harass its political opponents."
Human rights groups had raised an alarm when the general assembly approved Meng as president two years ago, citing Amnesty International's criticism of "China's long-standing practice of trying to use Interpol to arrest dissidents and refugees abroad."