Location China China

Interpol demands answers from China on missing president Meng Hongwei

by Laurie Chen and Mimi Lau
Interpol has urged Chinese officials to release information on the whereabouts of Meng Hongwei, the president of the international police agency who went missing after leaving France for China on September 29.

“Interpol has requested through official law enforcement channels clarification from China’s authorities on the status of Interpol President Meng Hongwei,” it said in a Twitter statement on Saturday.

“Interpol’s secretariat looks forward to an official response from China’s authorities to address concerns over the President’s well-being.”

Police in Lyon, the French city in which Interpol is based, had earlier launched their own investigation into Meng’s disappearance after his wife reported him missing.

The French interior ministry, meanwhile, said it was concerned about unspecified “threats” received by Meng’s wife. She and her family have been placed under police protection following the “worrying disappearance”, it said.

“France is puzzled about the situation of Interpol’s president and concerned about the threats made to his wife,” the ministry said.

The South China Morning Post reported on Friday that Meng, who is the first Chinese head of Interpol, was apprehended on his arrival in China last week and is now under investigation.

The 64-year-old, who is also a vice-minister at China’s Ministry of Public Security, was “taken away” for questioning by discipline authorities “as soon as he landed in China” last week, a source said.

It is not yet clear why Meng is being investigated or exactly where he is being held.

China has so far remained tight-lipped on the incident. Neither the public security ministry nor the foreign ministry responded to the Post’s requests for comment on Friday, and as of Saturday evening there had been no mention of Meng in the state media.

Although still listed as a vice-minister on the public security ministry’s website, Meng lost his seat on its Communist Party Committee – its real decision-making body – in April. According to his own page on the site, Meng’s last official engagement was on August 23, when he met Lai Chung Han, a second permanent secretary of Singapore.

Meng was appointed head of Interpol in 2016, and was due to serve until 2020.

His appointment caused concern among academics and human rights advocates, who feared he would abuse Interpol’s powers to forcibly repatriate Chinese dissidents and fugitives. Last April, Interpol issued a red notice for Chinese fugitive tycoon Guo Wengui at Beijing’s request.

Critics said Meng’s disappearance would sound alarm bells in global organisations that work with China.

Katrin Kinzelbach, associate director of the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin, said Meng had been under close observation since joining Interpol as his appointment had caused concern among academics and human rights advocates.

“Ironically, Meng’s disappearance can be a wake-up call, making it more difficult for the PRC [China] to claim leadership positions in international organisations,” she said.

Kinzelbach also urged Interpol to issue a yellow notice – a global alert used to help locate missing persons – on Meng’s behalf.

“As a matter of fact, Interpol cannot by itself investigate the whereabouts of its missing president, but it can, and in fact should, issue a yellow notice,” she said.

“PRC’s national authorities would then have to search for him. That is ironic, because Meng Hongwei seems to be a victim of their disciplinary procedures,” she said.

She said his disappearance was unlikely to have an impact on Interpol’s operations as his role was that of an executive.

However, his appointment was an alarming sign of China’s ability to shape international organisations, including those in which its authoritarian influence was extremely dangerous, she said.

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