The election of a South Korean police officer as president of Interpol would normally not have warranted much of a mention. Indeed, Kim Jong Yang’s appointment was described by one lawyer as a “solid, uncontroversial choice”.
However, the reason why the election took place at all and what nearly happened are deeply alarming signs of how close we are to a new world order in which democracy, the rule of law and basic human rights no longer hold sway.
The vacancy arose after the previous Interpol president, Meng Hongwei, disappeared in his native China. The authorities later said he was suspected of taking bribes, a claim his wife denies, saying he is the victim of a vendetta by rivals in China’s security ministry. Such disappearances are not uncommon in China. Earlier this year, actress Fan Bingbing, star of the X-Men and Iron Man films, vanished for months before eventually surfacing to apologise for failing to pay her taxes.
Justice in China does not involve the idea that it must be seen to be done, leading to the well-founded suspicion that China’s leaders use state powers to silence critics.
Kim’s election was also something of a surprise. The favourite was Alexander Prokopchuk, a former Russian interior ministry official. Businessman Bill Browder – whose lawyer Sergei Magnitsky was allegedly tortured and killed in a Moscow prison after investigating alleged corruption involving Kremlin-linked figures – had warned that Prokopchuk would take his instructions from Vladimir Putin, pointing out that Russia carried out Salisbury chemical weapons attack, has interfered in democratic elections in the US and Europe, and that a Russian missile was used to shoot down a passenger plane over Ukraine.
Donald Trump’s response to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi embassy – Trump said the Saudi royal family promised to spend billions on US arms – was another sign of how the rule of law is being diminished. All this sends out strong messages to elected leaders who look enviously at Putin’s corruption of democracy and to straightforward tyrants like the Saudi Crown Prince: democracy is falling, might is right, and murdering or disappearing a rival won’t have many repercussions. Interpol, already abused by non-democratic states, narrowly avoided being taken over by a deeply sinister regime. We may not be so lucky next time.