(CNSNews.com) – China’s secretive “anti-corruption” drive appears to have hit one of its most high-profile targets yet, with the news late Sunday that a top public security official – who also happens to be the president of the global policing agency Interpol – is under investigation.
A curt statement from an official Communist Party body Sunday provided the first clue into the whereabouts of Interpol president Meng Hongwei, 64, who went missing around September 25 while on a visit to his home country from France, where Interpol is based.
The notice came from the National Supervision Commission (NSC), a controversial body established last March to institutionalize President Xi Jinping’s sweeping crackdown on purported corruption, a drive launched after Xi assumed power in 2012.
According to state-run China Daily, the NSC said it was investigating Meng, who holds the post of vice-minister of public security, “for suspected breach of law.”
Also on Sunday night, Interpol issued a brief statement from its headquarters in Lyon saying it had “received the resignation of Mr. Meng Hongwei as president of Interpol with immediate effect.”
The statement gave no reason for the resignation and did not comment on the allegations Beijing has directed against Meng.
It said merely that a senior vice-president will become acting president until Interpol next general assembly, scheduled to be held in Dubai next month, elects a replacement to serve out the remaining two years of Meng’s term.
The statement concluded with a boilerplate sentence about the agency remaining focused on its mission “to help law enforcement officers across the world secure their borders, protect their citizens, prevent and investigate crime, and enhance global police cooperation.”
Since Meng went missing, the world’s top policy organization has been curiously tight-lipped about the affair.
Eventually on Friday its secretariat issued a statement saying it was aware about Meng’s “alleged disappearance” – ascribing that awareness to media reports, rather than to its own inquiries. It added that “this is a matter for the relevant authorities in both France and China,” and declined to comment further.
Then on Saturday Interpol’s general-secretary Jurgen Stock issued a brief statement saying the organization has, via official law enforcement channels, asked Chinese authorities to clarify Meng’s status.
Stock said the secretariat looked forward to an official response, “to address concerns over the president’s well-being.”
There was no further statement or explanation until Sunday’s resignation announcement.
While the secretary-general runs day-to-day operations, Interpol’s president, elected by the general assembly of 192 member-states for a term of four years, presides over the assembly and executive committee and ensures that the organization carries out its functions in conformity with those bodies’ decisions.
According to his Interpol bio, Meng has almost 40 years’ experience in criminal justice and policing, supervising areas including narcotics control, counter-terrorism, coast guard, border control, immigration and international cooperation.
Meng’s wife Grace – who with her husband and their two children lived in Lyon since his 2016 election, spoke to reporters in the French city on Sunday – before the Chinese announcement and Interpol resignation statement – and voiced deep concern about his safety.
Grace Meng said her last communication from her husband, on September 25, was a text send from China, containing an emoji of a knife, which she said symbolized danger.
The NSC, the body investigating Meng, was set up earlier this year as the country’s highest anti-corruption agency, merging the operations of an existing Community Party organ, the Central Commission for Discipline and Inspection.
The commission is empowered to hold suspects without trial for months – including in secret locations – raising concerns from observers that it is ripe for abuse, and will be used not just to expose graft but also to ensure loyalty to Xi and the party and purge potential rivals.
Its creation came as part of a package of amendments to the 1982 national constitution that boosts Xi’s authority significantly, removing presidential term limits and enshrining his philosophy (“Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”) in the constitution.
When China’s rubberstamp legislature last March approved the formation of the NSC and related legislation, Amnesty International expressed concern about the implications for the rule of law.
“It places tens of millions of people at the mercy of a secretive and virtually unaccountable system that is above the law,” said Nicholas Bequelin, the group’s East Asia director. “It by-passes judicial institutions by establishing a parallel system solely run by the Chinese Communist Party with no outside checks and balances.”
When he was elected president in November 2016, Meng became the first Chinese to take the post since his country joined Interpol in 1984.
Ironically, his election attracted criticism from human rights groups which voiced concern about the possible implications for Beijing’s attempts to use Interpol to help track down allegedly corrupt Chinese officials or dissidents who have fled abroad.
The Chinese government welcomed the election, with foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang saying China attaches great importance to Interpol's role, and is ready to take more responsibility and make a greater contribution to global law enforcement and security cooperation.
A senior Public Security Ministry official was quoted by China Daily at the time as saying with Meng at the helm, China will be even more active in promoting international judicial cooperation and fighting transnational crime.