Interpol has elected South Korean Kim Jong-yang as its president, rejecting the Russian frontrunner who had been accused of abusing the international police body’s arrest warrant system.
Mr Kim was chosen by Interpol’s 194 member states at a meeting of its annual congress in Dubai.
He beat Russia’s Alexander Prokopchuk, who had been widely tipped to win.
But there was growing concern that Mr Prokopchuk would use the role to target critics of Russia’s President Putin.
Moscow said Mr Prokopchuk would continue to serve as an Interpol vice-president and help strengthen the organisation’s “position in the international police community”. On Tuesday, it hit back at what it called a “campaign aimed at discrediting” the Russian candidate.
The election follows the disappearance of Interpol’s former president Meng Hongwei, who vanished on a trip to China in September. Beijing has since confirmed he has been detained and is being investigated for allegedly taking bribes.
Who is Kim Jong-yang?
Mr Kim, 57, is a former South Korean police officer who once served as head of police in Gyeonggi, the country’s most populous province.
He was already senior vice-president of Interpol and had been serving as acting president since Mr Meng’s disappearance. He will serve out the remaining two years of Mr Meng’s term.
Although his role as president is largely ceremonial – the day-to-day running of Interpol is led by Secretary-General Jürgen Stock – it does wield influence.
Upon his election, Mr Kim said: “Our world is now facing unprecedented changes which present huge challenges to public security and safety.
“To overcome them, we need a clear vision: we need to build a bridge to the future.”
Who is Alexander Prokopchuk?
Mr Prokopchuk is a Russian general who worked for many years with Russia’s interior ministry.
While he was Interpol’s Moscow bureau chief, he was accused of abusing the so-called red notice system – international arrest warrants – to target critics of the Kremlin.
No such accusations have been levelled at him while he has been one of Interpol’s four vice presidents.
But there had been growing fears among Russian human rights groups and officials from other countries, including the US and the UK, that Moscow would use his position as president to target its political opponents.
Who opposed Prokopchuk’s candidacy and why?
Two British-based prominent critics of the Kremlin – financier Bill Browder and ex-oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky – say they plan to launch a legal bid to have Russia suspended by Interpol.
Bill Browder, who was held in Spain earlier this year after a Russian Interpol request, has been a thorn in the Kremlin’s side, being widely credited with the creation of the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 range of sanctions from the United States on top Russian officials accused of corruption.
He welcomed the rejection of Mr Prokopchuk saying: “Reason prevails in this dark world.”
“The clear next step is to suspend Russia from Interpol for its consistent and serial abuse of the Red Notice and diffusion system for political purposes,” he added.
On Tuesday, both the UK foreign office and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threw their weight behind Kim Jong-yang’s candidacy.
A bipartisan group of US senators said electing Mr Prokopchuk would be “akin to putting a fox in charge of the henhouse”, while a prominent Kremlin critic said it would be like “putting the mafia in charge”.
This prompted a furious response from Moscow, who said such comments amounted to a “certain kind of interference in the electoral process of an international organisation”.
Lithuania, which regained its independence from Russia during the collapse of the Soviet Union and is now a member of both Nato and the EU, had threatened to leave Interpol if Mr Prokopchuk was elected.