The former president of Interpol, Meng Hongwei, who mysteriously disappeared last month, is under investigation for bribery and other crimes, China’s anti-corruption authorities announced Monday.
The 64-year-old, who is also China’s vice minister for public security, went missing while on a trip home to China in late September. Authorities said he was being investigated by China's National Supervision Commission due to his own "willfulness and for bringing trouble upon himself."
The statement did not specify whether Hongwei was under arrest, or even still in China.
“Suspected law violations have caused serious damage to the party and public security agencies,” the Chinese Ministry of Public Security said in a statement in Chinese. “A lesson must be learned from that and conclusions must be drawn."
Questions about Meng's case dominated a regular briefing by China's Foreign Ministry on Monday. The spokesman, Lu Kang, rejected the suggestion that China's handling of the Meng probe would hurt the country's image abroad, saying instead that it demonstrated Beijing's commitment to tackling graft.
"This has shown the Chinese government's firm resolve to crack down on corruption and crime," Lu said. "It has also made very clear that this case fully demonstrates that the party is firm in fighting corruption and anybody will be punished seriously in accordance with the law if they violated the law."
Hongwei’s unusual case erupted into public view after his wife, Grace, reported him missing to French police on Octo 4. She said she received a WhatsApp message from her husband on September 25 with a knife emoji followed by the message “wait for my call.” She then lost contact with him. She told reporters Sunday she believes her husband is in danger.
After acknowledging reports of Meng’s disappearance, Interpol – the international police cooperation organisation based in Lyon, France – requested clarification from Chinese authorities. Shortly after the Communist Party’s internal graft investigation body said Meng was under investigation, Interpol said he had resigned as president.
Hongwei became the first Chinese person to head Interpol in 2016. In his absence, South Korea’s Kim Jong Yang is now serving as Acting Interpol President. The new president will be elected in Dubai in mid-November.
In recent years, China has seen a number of high-profile disappearances of senior executives, government officials and heads of state-owned companies as President Xi Jinping’s vast anticorruption campaign continues.
Meng's various jobs likely put him in close contact with Zhou and other Chinese leaders in the security establishment, a sector long synonymous with corruption, opacity and human rights abuses.
Zhou and other senior figures prosecuted in Xi's anti-corruption crackdown were mostly convicted of corruption, but officials have also said they were accused of "conspiring openly to usurp party leadership."
The revelation that China's system of shady and often-arbitrary detentions could ensnare even a senior public security official with international stature has cast a shadow over the image Beijing has sought to cultivate as a modern country with judicious legal standards.