DUBAI (Reuters) – International police body Interpol elected Kim Jong-yang of South Korea as president on Wednesday, beating a Russian national whose candidacy had raised concerns in Europe and the United States about the risk of Kremlin interference.
Russia said clear outside pressure had been exerted on the vote but it did not dispute the voting process.
Interpol member states, meeting in Dubai for their annual congress, elected Kim to succeed China’s Meng Hongwei, who disappeared in September and later resigned after Chinese authorities said he was being investigated for suspected bribery.
Interpol, whose role is to facilitate cooperation between police forces around the world, said on Twitter that Kim, who had been serving as acting president, had been elected for a two-year term. The presidency, a largely ceremonial role, is typically held for four years.
Interpol later said Kim was completing the term of former president Meng, which was due to end in 2020.
Meng has not been seen since he disappeared during a trip 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.
“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.”
Day-to-day work is handled by Secretary-General Jurgen Stock of Germany, but the presidency still commands influence.
The candidacy of Alexander Prokopchuk of Russia, a police major-general and one of Interpol’s four vice-presidents, led to concern in Europe and the United States about the possibility of Russia being able to exploit Interpol’s power.
Commenting on Wednesday’s election, 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 immediate comment.
Interpol’s charter forbids it from involving itself in disputes of a political, religious or racial nature. It is not a supranational police force and has no agents who are allowed to make arrests.
Kim, 57, worked in the South Korean police for more than 20 years before retiring in 2015.
South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in congratulated Kim on becoming the first South Korean to head the organization.
“We’re very proud. I, together with our people, am sending congratulations,” Moon wrote on Twitter.
The United States said on Tuesday it supported Kim to lead the agency after a group of U.S. senators accused Russia of exploiting the global body to settle scores and harass dissidents.
The Kremlin said on Tuesday public opposition by a group of U.S. senators to the Russian candidate amounted to election meddling.
In Europe, Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian prime minister and prominent member of the European Parliament, had said “democratic and free countries may need to develop a parallel organization” if Prokopchuk were elected.
“Russia has consistently misused Interpol to pursue its political opponents,” he wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.
Pacific island nations 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 do not recognize Kosovo’s independence from Belgrade, declared in 2008.
Reporting by Alexander Cornwell in DUBAI; additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin in SEOUL and Tom Balmforth in MOSCOW; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Gareth Jones