China says it detained missing Interpol chief over bribery allegations as wife claims 'political persecution'

  • Beijing confirmed that the Interpol president who vanished after visiting China was detained and being investigated over bribery allegations.
  • Interpol President Meng Hongwei vanished after travelling to China, his native country, on September 29. Interpol said on Sunday that Meng had resigned “with immediate effect.”
  • His last text message to his wife was an emoji of a knife, which she believed was a warning that he was in danger. She said on Monday that Meng disappeared because of “political persecution.”
  • China on Sunday said that Meng had been caught up in President Xi Jinping’s “anti-corruption drive.”
  • Activists previously protested Meng’s election to Interpol’s presidency, fearing that Beijing could use Meng’s position to abuse Interpol’s powers.

Beijing broke its silence on Meng Hongwei, the Interpol president who vanished after travelling to China, by saying that it had detained him and was investigating him over bribery allegations.

Meng disappeared after travelling from France, where he and his wife live, to China on September 29. His wife Grace said that she had not heard from him since then, and that Meng sent her an emoji of a knife, possibly to warn her that he was in danger.

Interpol said in a Sunday night statement that Meng had resigned as president of the agency’s executive committee “with immediate effect.” It did not say why.

On Sunday night, China’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection wrote in a terse statement on its website: “Meng Hongwei, deputy minister of the Ministry of Public Security, is suspected of violating the law and is currently under the supervision of the State Supervision Commission.”

Details of Meng’s alleged violations are not clear, but his detention appears to be part of a wider “anti-corruption drive” promulgated by President Xi Jinping since his ascendancy to the Chinese leadership.

In its announcement of Meng’s bribery allegations, China’s public security ministry – where Meng previously served as vice-minister – said that the investigation was “correct, wise and shows the determination of [Xi’s] administration to continue its anti-corruption drive,” according to the BBC.

Public security officials on Monday also claimed that the investigation “fully showed there was no privilege or exception before the law,” the South China Morning Post reported.

Grace Meng on Monday denied the bribery allegations, adding that her husband was detained by Chinese authorities because of “political persecution,” according to CNN producer David Gelles.

Xi Jinping’s ‘anti-corruption drive’

Xi has cracked down on numerous officials as part of his anti-corruption campaign before, and Beijing has a long history of disappearing high-profile officials as a means of punishing dissenters.

Sophie Richardson, the China director of Human Rights Watch, told Business Insider on Monday that “as is so often the way, especially in highly politicized cases such as these, we have no way of knowing whether the evidence is credible.”

“But we are absolutely confident that the way he [Meng] – and so many others like him who have been disappeared and denied access to family and lawyers of their choice – is incompatible with any sense of the term ‘rule of law,’ much as President Xi likes to insist that’s the case in China today,” she continued.

Last week, Roderic Wye, a former British diplomat in Beijing, also told Business Insider that public disappearances were not unusual, especially in politics.

He said: “It is often a sign that someone has got into trouble if they fail to appear in public doing their normal duties for a period of time in.”

The screenshot below shows Meng’s last texts to his wife, which was sent on September 25. He wrote: “Wait for my call,” before sending an emoji of a knife four minutes later.

Meng has a history of cracking down on domestic Chinese dissent

Meng was elected to Interpol’s presidency in 2016, and his term was expected to run until 2020. (Interpol has since appointed an acting president, Kim Jong Yang of South Korea, and said that its secretary general J├╝rgen Stock is normally in charge of its day-to-day activities.)

Rights groups protested Meng’s election to Interpol’s presidency at the time, citing his previous work at the ministry of public security in Xinjiang and Tibet. Those two regions are home to the country’s Uighur and Tibetan ethnic minorities, whose Beijing has attempted to muzzle, respectively.

During Meng’s tenure, China submitted multiple “red notices” – Interpol arrest warrants – for dissidents around the world. They include Guo Wengui, a Chinese billionaire who fled to New York and continues to make hour-long rants with unverified information about the Chinese leadership.

Richardson told Business Insider on Sunday that China’s disappearance of Meng was “a new low for the country” and accused Beijing of “abuse of the Interpol system.”

She said: “China’s longstanding abuse of the Interpol system for political purposes and its nomination of Meng to Interpol’s top slot, despite his history as a senior official in China’s abusive police, particularly on Xinjiang and counterterrorism efforts, show the government’s complete lack of credibility on all matters relating to Interpol enforcement. His arrest now merely reinforces those concerns in the enforcement of specific cases.

“Interpol, which claims to adhere to the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and promote credible law enforcement, now needs to do more than blandly accept Meng’s resignation – it should insist on an explanation from Chinese authorities and publicly state whether the charges are credible.

“Having accepted Meng as its president it should speak out against disappearances and politicized prosecutions.”

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