The widow of poisoned dissident Alexander Litvinenko has warned that critics of Vladimir Putin in the UK will not feel safe if a Russian candidate becomes the president of Interpol.
Marina Litvinenko warned that Alexander Prokopchuk would not be an “independent” figure and could instead act in a politically-motivated manner.
The UK and US governments are opposed to Mr Prokopchuk becoming the new president of the international police organisation but he is expected to win widespread support in a vote in Dubai on Wednesday.
Mrs Litvinenko’s ex-spy husband was killed in 2006 with radioactive polonium-210 in London in an attack blamed on a Russian intelligence operation.
She told BBC’s Newsnight that having a Russian as president of Interpol would lead to abuse of the “red notice” system for arresting people wanted for extradition.
“Everybody who is asking for political asylum here in the UK now will not feel safe at all,” she said.
Tory MP Bob Seely, an expert in Russian affairs, told the programme: “Putting … a general, a senior representative of one of the most criminalised governments on earth in charge of Interpol makes a mockery of the organisation in principle.
“It looks dreadful and it is only going to increase the likelihood of Russia to abuse the red notice system still further.”
Mr Prokopchuk, a general who is currently an Interpol vice-president, is reportedly the forerunner of two nominees that the agency’s delegates will select from on Wednesday.
Mr Seely criticised the UK Government for failing to take action to stop his candidacy at an earlier stage.
“We have been blindsided by this,” he said. “The Home Office wasn’t talking to the Foreign Office.”
In the Commons on Tuesday, Foreign Office minister Harriett Baldwin said the UK supported the rival candidate, South Korea’s Kim Jong Yang.
Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Tugendhat told MPs: “This is really quite an extraordinary situation: to find ourselves with the possibility of not just a fox in charge of a hen coop, but the assassin in charge of the murder investigation.”
US National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis also backed the South Korean candidate and said the Russian government “abuses Interpol’s processes to harass its political opponents”.
Interpol’s charter states its neutrality but its use of red notices has at times been criticised as politically-motivated.
Concerns were also raised when the previous Interpol president, Meng Hongwei, was elected, because he was a senior official in the Chinese government, which has also been accused of misusing the system.
The latest election was sparked after Mr Meng was arrested in China during a purge against allegedly disloyal or corrupt officials.