China tight-lipped on missing Interpol chief

Mr Meng Hongwei was last seen leaving for China late last month from the Interpol headquarters in Lyon, south-east France, said a source.
Mr Meng Hongwei was last seen leaving for China late last month from the Interpol headquarters in Lyon, south-east France, said a source.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BEIJING • China remained silent yesterday over the disappearance of the head of Interpol, deepening the mystery over the international police chief's fate after reports said he was detained for questioning on arrival in his homeland.

Mr Meng Hongwei, 64, was last seen leaving for China late last month from the Interpol headquarters in Lyon, south-east France, a source close to the enquiry told Agence France-Presse. His wife has since reported him missing.

It is the latest high-profile disappearance in China, where a number of top government officials, billionaire business magnates and even an A-list celebrity have vanished for weeks or months at a time.

Beijing has so far said nothing on Mr Meng's case. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to a request for comment from AFP.

But news of his absence was swiftly followed by speculation that Mr Meng - who also serves as a vice-minister of China's Ministry of Public Security - had been swept up in Beijing's secretive anti-corruption campaign.

Citing an anonymous source, the South China Morning Post said the authorities from the country's disciplinary commission had snatched Mr Meng upon his arrival in Beijing.

Interpol has asked Chinese officials for information on Mr Meng's whereabouts. In a Twitter statement yesterday it said: "Interpol has requested through official law enforcement channels clarification from China's authorities on the status of Interpol President Meng Hongwei."

It added: "Interpol's secretariat looks forward to an official response from China's authorities to address concerns over the president's well-being."

 
 

It is not clear why Mr Meng - the first Chinese president of Interpol - would be under investigation. After he was elected by Interpol's general assembly in 2016, he was celebrated by China's state-run news media as confirming that the country was winning international recognition and respect under President Xi Jinping. His sudden and mysterious disappearance threatens to cloud China's image, demonstrating that even the most prominent official of an international police organisation is vulnerable.

"If Meng Hongwei has disappeared in China, then of course the most likely reason is an anti-corruption investigation," Mr Deng Yuwen, a former editor of a Communist Party journal, said in a telephone interview.

Mr Xi has presided over a popular anti-graft drive since coming to power in 2012 that has punished more than one million officials, with critics comparing it to a political purge.

Mr Meng rose up the ranks of the country's domestic security apparatus when it was under the leadership of Zhou Yongkang, a rival to Mr Xi and the highest-ranking official to be brought down on corruption charges.

Mr Zhou - who was sentenced to life in prison in 2014 - was subsequently accused of conspiring to seize state power and authorities have continued working to root out his influence. He appointed Mr Meng vice-security minister in 2004.

In the role, Mr Meng has been entrusted with a number of sensitive portfolios, including heading up the country's counterterrorism division, which saw him in charge of the response to several major incidents in China's fractious western region of Xinjiang.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 07, 2018, with the headline 'China tight-lipped on missing Interpol chief'. Print Edition | Subscribe