Last week, Brigadier Anbuen Scott Naidoo, now retired from the force, was nominated as the country’s candidate for the position.
With 194-member countries, Interpol is the world’s largest global police organisation. Its role is to help police from different countries work together to make the world safer.
The nomination took place as the organisation gathered in Dubai for its 87th general assembly. Two other candidates were nominated, one from Russia and the other from South Korea.
According to sources, Naidoo, from Merebank, Durban, was highly respected in Interpol having headed its office in South Africa and served on its executive committee.
However, on Monday, two days before the elections, South Africa withdrew his nomination.
The decision was apparently made by Police Minister Bheki Cele and National Police Commissioner Khehla Sitole, who were both part of the South African delegation in the United Arab Emirates.
A source close to developments said: “The decision was unexpected and it seems it was not properly thought through. South Africa was the only African country in the race and received huge support from other countries.
“It’s no secret that there were disputes around the participating countries, especially Russia. South Africa went there neutral. In fact, we stood a better chance of winning,” said the source.
The decision left the candidates from Russia and South Korea to compete for the post. It is believed South Africa supported the Russian candidate, Alexander Prokopchuk, touted as the favourite after Naidoo’s nomination was withdrawn.
However, he proved unpopular among American and Western countries.
According to media reports, human rights groups criticised his candidacy and accused him of having abused Interpol arrest warrants to target critics of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
The UK backed South Korean candidate Kim Jong-yang and warned it would consider withdrawing from Interpol if Prokopchuk was elected. Lithuania threatened to do the same.
Jong-yang won the election and shortly afterwards told delegates: “Our world is facing unprecedented changes which present huge challenges to public security and safety. To overcome them, we need a clear vision: we need to build a bridge to the future.”
Naidoo confirmed his nomination was withdrawn and said: “I did not nominate myself, I was nominated by my country. A decision was taken for South Africa not to participate any more, I accepted and respect the decision.”
Department of International Relations spokesperson Ndivhuwo Mabaya said the department would comment about the matter at a later stage.
Cele had not responded by the time of publication.
DA spokesperson on police Dianne Kohler Barnard described the withdrawal as an embarrassment for the country and an insult to the candidate.
“South Africa would have stood a chance to reclaim world status after the embarrassment by the late Jackie Selebi, who was arrested while he was the president of Interpol.”
In 2004, Selebi became the first South African to be appointed to the post. He resigned four years later after being charged with corruption.
“I am stunned and want to know why South Africa gave up this opportunity. Who took the decision? Was it the deputy president, who seems to have preference for Russian doctors?”
IFP national spokesperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa said since a decision was taken to nominate a South African, Cele needed to explain the withdrawal.
“Was he acting in the interests of our country or acting in the interests of a foreign influence? One cannot ignore Russian influence and meddling in our internal affairs from the time Jacob Zuma took over as our president,” said Hlengwa.