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Interpol president missing in China, France announces after wife reports to authorities

Mr. Meng Hongwei, President of INTERPOL and Houlin Zhao, Secretary-General. (M. Jacobson - Gonzalez/International Telecommunication Union - United Nations)
October 05, 2018

French authorities have begun an investigation into the disappearance of Interpol president and Chinese Public Security official, Meng Hongwei.

Meng traveled to China in late September, where he conducted senior police official duties, and lost contact prompted his wife to report him missing, according to a New York Times report on Friday.

An official connected to the investigation said anonymously that Meng’s wife sought police in Lyon, France where the couple resides, and the Interpol headquarters is located. She reported him missing early Friday morning after losing contact with him following his arrival in China.

The specific date of his disappearance is not yet known.

A source told the South China Morning Post that Meng was “taken away” last week by authorities for questioning “as soon as he landed in China.”

Interpol, the global police organization, released an official statement, confirming it was “aware of media reports in connection with the alleged disappearance.”

“This is a matter for the relevant authorities in both France and China,” the statement added. “Interpol’s general secretariat headquarters will not comment further.”

Some have speculated that China may be detaining Meng while conducting an “anticorruption inquiry” as part of an investigative scheme in which suspects – even senior level officials – are detained in secret.

China was satisfied by Meng’s 2016 appointment as Interpol president, and he also continues to serve as vice minister of China’s Ministry of Public Security. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Lu Kang, said in 2016 that Meng’s Interpol presidency “received a positive response from the broad numbers of [Interpol] member countries.”

However, that positive response appeared to change recently.

Meng was previously a member of the Chinese Communist Party until April 2018 when the public security ministry announced he was no longer a party member. This fueled speculation that he could be facing trouble, as the Communist Party levied a strong campaign against government officials’ bribery and embezzlement activities.

Under the party’s investigations, suspects frequently disappear for extended periods of time – from weeks to months. The Chinese government does so entirely in secret, not revealing anything until a suspect’s fate is determined.

No accusations against Meng have been publicly announced, and Chinese officials continued to meet with him recently. His disappearance shows how vulnerable Chinese officials are to President Xi Jinping’s powerful anti-corruption investigative agency. But it is also a subject of embarrassment for China.

China has been accused of exploiting Interpol to combat dissent from abroad by obtaining international arrest warrants in order to silence political opponents. Critics speculated that Meng’s appointment as Interpol president would benefit their political aggression campaign.

In 2020, Meng is expected to step down as Interpol president.