Red Alert

In­ter­pol’s new chief must stop Rus­sia’s abuse of in­ter­na­tional ar­rest war­rants

Newsweek International - - PERISCOPE - KAMRAN BOKHARI

Vladimir Putin has long used his in­flu­ence over key in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tu­tions to fuel Rus­sia’s ex­pan­sion.

There’s the United Na­tions, where his Se­cu­rity Coun­cil veto power al­lowed him to ma­nip­u­late the Syr­ian war, and the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons, the nu­clear weapons watch­dog where he de­layed at­tempts to hold coun­tries ac­count­able for gas at­tacks.

But the or­ga­ni­za­tion over which Putin ar­guably ex­er­cises the most power is In­ter­pol, the world’s largest po­lice agency. To squash po­lit­i­cal dis­sent, Rus­sia has is­sued a grow­ing num­ber of so-called red no­tices, in­ter­na­tional war­rants that make in­di­vid­u­als sub­ject to ar­rest in any In­ter­pol mem­ber state around the world. Some­times the tar­gets were po­lit­i­cal dis­si­dents or en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists. And some­times they were as in­nocu­ous as the chair­man of a Hun­gar­ian com­pany that was un­lucky enough to beat pro-krem­lin en­ergy gi­ant Gazprom to a deal.

That’s why, in late Novem­ber, the free world breathed a col­lec­tive sigh of re­lief at the ap­point­ment of South Korea’s Kim Jong-yang as the new In­ter­pol chief. The fa­vorite had been Alexan­der Prokopchuk, one of Putin’s most trusted gen­er­als. But the threat is far from over: Although he lost out in the lead­er­ship elec­tion, Prokopchuk will re­main in the agency’s se­nior man­age­ment.

The sig­nif­i­cance of In­ter­pol’s pres­i­dent has long been un­der­es­ti­mated in Western cap­i­tals, but just as Rus­sia’s ma­nip­u­la­tion of Face­book ap­pears to have dam­aged U.S. democ­racy, its ex­ploita­tion of the world’s largest po­lice force threat­ens the EU.

Red no­tices can do se­ri­ous dam­age in the wrong hands. Any one of In­ter­pol’s 194 mem­ber states can in­sti­gate one, but Rus­sia is one of the lead­ing abusers. There is no third-party over­sight, no checks and bal­ances, and no ex­ter­nal au­thor­ity; In­ter­pol is self-gov­ern­ing.

Only 3 per­cent of red no­tices are thor­oughly re­viewed be­fore be­ing car­ried out. That is fine, as long as states play by the rules. But In­ter­pol has been used as a po­lit­i­cal tool for some time now. And un­less Kim can in­tro­duce the kind of re­forms such a pow­er­ful and opaque or­ga­ni­za­tion needs, it will un­for­tu­nately be busi­ness as usual.

The most re­cent (and ar­guably im­por­tant) ex­am­ple is Zsolt Hernádi, a Hun­gar­ian econ­o­mist who is chair­man of the Hun­gar­ian en­ergy com­pany MOL. How In­ter­pol has flip-flopped over his case would be com­i­cal if it did not ex­em­plify Rus­sia’s strate­gic ex­pan­sion into the EU.

A red no­tice on bribery charges was is­sued for Hernádi back in 2013, after MOL beat Gazprom to an in­vest­ment in Croa­tia’s big­gest en­ergy com­pany, INA. The deal thwarted Putin’s vi­sion of es­tab­lish­ing Rus­sia’s most pow­er­ful en­ergy pres­ence in an EU coun­try.

In what seemed like vin­di­ca­tion, Hernádi was re­moved from the red list in 2016. A year later, all cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions against him were dis­missed after the U.N.’S ar­bi­tra­tion com­mis­sion as­sessed the facts and threw out the case, con­clud­ing there was no ev­i­dence of cor­rup­tion.

But Rus­sia per­sisted, lob­by­ing Croa­tia to re­verse its agree­ment with MOL, which would give Rus­sian

com­pa­nies an open­ing to ac­quire the Hun­gar­ian com­pany’s stake. With MOL re­luc­tant to sell its stake back to Croa­tia, the Krem­lin then sought to nul­lify the en­tire agree­ment by claim­ing it was won on the back of bribery.

So in late Novem­ber, Hernádi was re­turned to the In­ter­pol red list—on ex­actly the same charges the agency seems to have dropped against him in 2016 and that he was ac­quit­ted of by the U.N.’S high­est trade law au­thor­ity.

In an in­trigu­ing un­fold­ing of events, Croa­tia seems to have warmed to Rus­sian ad­vances, stat­ing it wishes to re­claim the shares it sold to MOL and is open to de­vel­op­ing a new strate­gic part­ner­ship for the coun­try’s big­gest en­ergy com­pany.

Since the trou­ble started, Gazprom Chair­man Alexei Miller vis­ited Croa­tia, Putin per­son­ally dec­o­rated the mayor of Za­greb, and the Krem­lin’s am­bas­sador to Croa­tia proudly boasted that “Rus­sia can do more for Croa­tia than the U.S. and the EU com­bined.”

Mean­while, the red no­tice makes it dan­ger­ous for Hernádi to leave Hun­gary. This is mafia be­hav­ior, rub­ber-stamped by In­ter­pol.

The mes­sage is clear: The Balkans—and Eastern Europe in gen­eral—are Rus­sia’s back­yard. Es­pe­cially when it comes to en­ergy.

It is a mat­ter of time be­fore per­se­cu­tion of in­vestors like Hernádi does last­ing dam­age to the EU brand. Why risk in­vest­ing, or even do­ing busi­ness there, when it may lead to years of ab­surd ac­cu­sa­tions through Rus­sia’s In­ter­pol desk?

Re­gard­less of who is now in the top job, if In­ter­pol con­tin­ues to do Putin’s bid­ding for him, full-fledged democ­ra­cies should con­sider sus­pend­ing their mem­ber­ship in the or­ga­ni­za­tion. Or per­haps Rus­sia should be pres­sured to leave, sim­i­lar to when the G8 be­came the G7.

That may sound dras­tic, but Rus­sia’s use of an in­ter­na­tional law en­force­ment body to launch a si­lent coup against the EU’S en­ergy se­cu­rity is far, far worse. → Kamran Bokhari is a Wash­ing­ton­based na­tional se­cu­rity and for­eign pol­icy spe­cial­ist with the Univer­sity of Ot­tawa’s Pro­fes­sional De­vel­op­ment In­sti­tute.

There is no third-party over­sight, no checks and bal­ances, and no ex­ter­nal au­thor­ity.

Rus­sia has used “red no­tices” to pun­ish dis­si­dents and eco­nomic ri­vals. Clock­wise, from up­per left: In­ter­pol head­quar­ters in France; Hernádi; a MOL re­fin­ery out­side Bu­dapest; and Putin. BAD IN­FLU­ENCE

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