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Interpol Members Elect South Korean As Next President, Objecting To Russian Official


Interpol has a new president. That's the international body that works with police forces around the world. A Russian official had looked to be the front-runner to lead Interpol, but human rights groups and diplomats objected to him. So today, the winner was announced - South Korean Kim Jong-yang. Louise Shelley of George Mason University has been following all of this. She's an expert on transnational crime and corruption. Professor Shelley, welcome to the studio.

LOUISE SHELLEY: Delighted to be here.

SHAPIRO: Give us just a brief sense of what Interpol actually does.

SHELLEY: Interpol is not an international police force. It's more like a post office in which it helps administer police directives, requests from other countries. But it also has in-house analysis and helps do operations against transnational crime.

SHAPIRO: And how important is the question of who leads Interpol?

SHELLEY: It's important. There's a secretary general who is in charge of day-to-day administration. And then there's a president that's elected by the membership that helps set policy and help set the tenor of the organization. So if you have a president who comes from an authoritarian country like China, as the recently...

SHAPIRO: As the last president was.

SHELLEY: ...The recently arrested president of Interpol or what was thought was the leading candidate who was Russian. It could then help politicize and increase the abuse of Interpol that is already an existing and serious problem.

SHAPIRO: Why didn't the Russian front-runner get chosen?

SHELLEY: I think that there was all of a sudden a realization at the last minute that this could have a very deleterious effect on international justice and that there are countries that might even remove themselves from Interpol as they did not want to be under Russian influence. And so all of a sudden, after the news and the international community not paying enough attention to this, they all of a sudden woke up and started focusing on what the implications would be for the global community and for the global rule of law.

SHAPIRO: I know there's been a lot of criticism of authoritarian countries using Interpol to go after their own internal dissidents. Does the fact that this South Korean leader was chosen rather than the Russian mean that that's less likely to happen?

SHELLEY: Absolutely. In the last few years, many red notices, which is the authority vested in Interpol to issue notices concerning extradition, request for detention by other countries, have gone through Interpol. And, originally, it was a small amount, maybe a thousand a year. But this has blossomed in the last decade, and now we're at over 12,000.

SHAPIRO: Are there specific areas where you would like to see Interpol take more of an active role as it begins this new chapter?

SHELLEY: There is certainly a lot that needs to be done to combat many forms of dark commerce. And these are transnational crime concerning wildlife, for which Interpol has not been sufficiently resourced, the sale of many counterfeits that are not just violations of intellectual property but cause real harm to people's lives, like medicine, counterfeit electronics and car parts that actually kill people. So there are many kinds of transnational crime, including cybercrime, in which Interpol could play a very important coordinating role.

SHAPIRO: How happy and surprised were you to see the outcome of this leadership election?

SHELLEY: I was very happy because I've been deeply concerned about this issue, which is in part why I've been working for months on having very eminent people talk about this problem of red notices and Interpol abuse that's going on transnationally but is also having effects on the United States as we do not recognize how much the powers of Interpol have been abused by authoritarian states.

SHAPIRO: Professor Louise Shelley directs the Terrorism Transnational Crime and Corruption Center at George Mason University in Virginia. Thanks for coming into the studio today.

SHELLEY: Thank you.