Russia’s Abuse of International Arrest Warrants
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.
There is no third-party oversight, no checks and balances, and no external authority.
BAD INFLUENCE Russia has used “red notices” to punish dissidents and economic rivals. Clockwise, from upper left: Interpol headquarters in )rance Hern£di a 02/ reɿnery outside Budapest; and Putin.