Beijing admits it is holding Meng Hongwei, who had been missing since 25 September
China has accused the missing ex-Interpol president Meng Hongwei of bribery, as the case continues to tarnish Beijings image as a rising power and responsible member of international organisations.
In a terse statement on Sunday evening, the Chinese authorities admitted they were holding Meng and Chinas ministry of public security said on Monday that the Interpol chief, who was reported missing in France at the weekend, was being investigated for accepting bribes.
The inspection and investigation of Meng Hongwei is very timely, totally right, and very wise, it said in a statement on its website.
Claiming Meng, who is Chinese, only had himself to blame, the ministry added: There is no exception in front of the law. Anyone will be strictly investigated and punished.
Interpol said on Monday it regretted Chinas move. The agencys acting president, Kim Jong Yang, said it had not been told about the investigation of its chief and still did not know enough about the situation.
I find it regrettable that the top leader of the organization had to go out this way and that we werent specifically notified of what was happening in advance, Kim said. We still dont have sufficient information about whats happening, or whether it has anything to do with Chinese domestic politics.
Questions about Mengs likely fate dominated a Chinese foreign ministry briefing on Monday. The spokesman, Lu Kang, denied Beijings handling of the case would harm its image abroad.
This has shown the Chinese governments firm resolve to crack down on corruption and crime, Lu said, adding that it fully demonstrates the party is firm in fighting corruption. Lu declined to say whether Meng would be formally arrested or allowed to hire a lawyer or receive a visit from his wife.
French police have been investigating Mengs disappearance during a visit to China, which was first reported on Friday by his wife, Grace.
In an emotional appeal on Sunday, she told journalists she had not heard from her husband since 25 September when he sent her a WhatsApp message that said: Wait for my call. Four minutes later, the message was followed by an emoji of a knife, she said.
Then late on Sunday, Chinas new anti-corruption body, the national supervision commission, said he was being detained and investigated for suspected violations of the law.
Interpol released a statement soon afterwards saying Meng had resigned with immediate effect. Interpols president a largely ceremonial role is seconded from his or her national administration and remains in post while representing the agency.
Meng, president of the global law enforcement organisation since 2016, usually lives in Lyon, where Interpol is based, with his family. The agency would not say on Monday whether it was customary for an Interpol president to bring their family to France, or whether Interpol provided accommodation for them.
Mengs predecessor, French police officer Mireille Ballestrazzi, lived in Paris and travelled to Lyon only when necessary for meetings. Mengs wife and children have been placed under protective custody, according to the French interior ministry.
Mengs case has highlighted Chinas opaque system of often arbitrary detentions. In the past few months, the Chinese actor Fan Bingbing vanished from public view before reappearing with a statement pledging loyalty to the ruling Communist party and apologising for tax evasion. Top officials have also disappeared, re-emerging shamed and under investigation.
Making the president of Interpol suddenly disappear is embarrassing, but China no longer cares about losing face, said Zhang Lifan, a historian and independent commentator in Beijing. I think the authorities knew how big the discussion would be after this incident, but they just dont care.
Mengs disappearance and downfall has raised speculation of a renewed political struggle within the Communist party. The Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, has overseen a broad corruption crackdown that many see as a political purge.
Some observers have pointed to Mengs connection with now-fallen security tsar Zhou Yongkang. Meng, previously head of Chinas bureau of oceanography as well as its coastguard, was promoted to vice-minister of for public security under Zhou.
Yet Mengs appointment as Interpol head came after Zhou had been convicted and sentenced to life in prison for bribery and other crimes. Zhang said that showed he was still trusted.
As a trade war with the US drags on, there is reported infighting within Chinas political elite and it is unclear who Meng may have fallen foul of.
I dont think the reason behind Mengs investigation is corruption, said Zhang. Its likely related to a power struggle.
Meng may have foreseen his own downfall. In April, he lost his seat on the decision-making body, the Communist party committee. For his wife to give public statements is unusual as relatives of Chinese officials usually remain silent.
The incident may hurt Beijings years-long campaign to put more Chinese nationals in top international posts. Mengs appointment, the first time a Chinese official has been head of Interpol, was questioned by critics who worried that Beijing would use the organisation to pursue political dissidents and officials who had fled China.
But as president of Interpol, a largely symbolic role, Meng would not have had much influence over the red notice system.
Meng, like all other Chinese citizens, is required to be loyal to Chinese Communist party first, and must comply with the partys political demands, including approaches to security that contradict international norms, said Samantha Hoffman of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
In Mengs case, this should have been disqualifying. In other cases, this should at the very least raise serious questions about any senior Chinese Communist party official taking a leadership position at any international institution.
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