Chinese government admits head of Interpol 'under investigation' after disappearance

The missing head of Interpol, who vanished after returning to his homeland, is under investigation in China,...

Posted: Oct 8, 2018 1:32 PM
Updated: Oct 8, 2018 1:32 PM

The missing head of Interpol, who vanished after returning to his homeland, is under investigation in China, authorities in Beijing have confirmed.

In a terse one line statement Sunday evening, China's ruling Communist Party admitted Meng Hongwei, who also holds the position of vice minister of public security in China, was "under investigation by the National Supervision Commission for alleged violations of laws."

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Chinese authorities had previously remained tight-lipped about the whereabouts of Meng, following his sudden disappearance last month after he flew from France to China.

Sunday's statement did not specifically say that Meng had been arrested, or that he remains in China. However, previous suspects who have been described as "under investigation" by the National Supervisory Commission -- the country's top anti-corruption agency -- have often reappeared in the custody of the government at a later date.

In a separate development, Interpol said it had received Meng's resignation from the international police agency with "immediate effect" according to statement posted Sunday. It made no mention of the former president's sudden disappearance or his current whereabouts.

The South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong-based newspaper known for its connections inside the Chinese government, said Meng was "taken away" for questioning upon landing in China last week. The newspaper cited an unnamed source.

It comes just one week after one of China's best-known actresses, Fan Bingbing, reappeared following a lengthy disappearance, admitting to tax evasion and promising to pay a large fine.

"That China feels so emboldened to disappear even one of its most famous actresses ... should be a real wake up call that anyone within China could be next," human rights advocate Michael Caster wrote for CNN in September.

'Wait for my call'

Meng's disappearance was first reported to authorities by his wife, Grace, who went to police in Lyon on Thursday, according to the French Interior Ministry.

She told police that she last heard from him 10 days prior and had received threats on social media and by telephone, according to the statement.

Speaking to reporters at a hotel in Lyon, France, Grace said that that her last contact with her husband came via a WhatsApp text message with a knife emoji and the instructions, "Wait for my call."

Grace said her husband's whereabouts is a matter that "belongs to the international community."

"Although I can't see my husband, we are always connected by heart," she said.

The French Interior Ministry said through a spokesman it has no information to share about the text message Grace had received from her husband.

Interpol had asked Chinese authorities for information about Meng Hongwei. Interpol Secretary General Jurgen Stock said in a statement posted to Twitter on Saturday, "Interpol has requested through official law enforcement channels clarification from China's authorities on the status of Interpol President Meng Hongwei."

"Interpol's General Secretariat looks forward to an official response from China's authorities to address concerns over the President's well-being," the statement continued.

Interpol said Sunday night that South Korea's Kim Jong Yang, a vice president representing Asia on Interpol's executive committee, would serve as acting president until the organization's general assembly picks a permanent president next month.

Missing for days

Interpol, or the International Police Criminal Organization, facilitates international police cooperation.

Meng Hongwei, a former head of Interpol China, was elected president of the international organization in November 2016. He was the first Chinese official to become Interpol president, which is based in Lyon.

Meng oversaw the agency's executive committee, which sets overall strategy.

Following the announcement of Meng's appointment in 2016 there were concerns among human rights advocates that he could turn the organization towards Beijing's aims.

Instead, Meng could be the latest victim of the wide-ranging anti-corruption campaign put in place by Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.

The campaign promised to crackdown on both the powerful as well as regular people, or "tigers and flies," and in the following six years, it has brought down powerful political figures in China, including former security tzar Zhou Yongkang, under whom Meng rose through the ranks of the Chinese security apparatus.

But some have criticized the campaign as partly a way for Xi to secure his hold on power and remove political opponents.

Meng was not on French soil when he was last seen, according a senior French law enforcement official, who declined to say whether he was in China.

The French government said that a "suitable police mechanism" was put in place to guarantee Grace Meng's safety, and that the prosecutor's office in Lyon has opened an investigation.

A spokeswoman for Interpol, who declined to give her name, refused to say whether Meng had been on official business in China.

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