China accuses detained ex-Interpol chief of bribery

China has accused ex-Interpol president Meng Hongwei of bribery and other crimes just days after his disappearance drew international scrutiny.

Meng was first reported missing in late September after travelling from France to his native China.

Background

Meng Hongwei, 64, was named the president of the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) in November 2016 and was due to serve until 2020. Interpol is the world’s largest police agency consisting of 192 member countries. It coordinates between police forces across the globe and assists in searches for missing and wanted suspects.

Meng’s appointment was met with applause from China. However, human rights advocates and academics voiced concerns that Beijing could seek to abuse his power to track down and deport back to China dissidents and fugitives abroad. China has a history of calling on countries to arrest and deport citizens accused of crimes like corruption and terrorism.

In late September, Meng was reported missing after travelling to China, prompting an investigation by French authorities. His wife contacted police in Lyon – where Interpol headquarters are located – saying she hadn’t heard from him since he arrived in China and had received threats via phone and social media. His wife, Grace, said he sent her a WhatsApp message on September 25 that read: “Wait for my call.” Four minutes later, she said she received an emoji of a knife.

On Sunday, Interpol said Meng resigned his post “with immediate effect”. Interpol appointed senior vice-president Kim Jong Yang of South Korea as acting president.

Analysis

Interpol president Meng Hongwei has been accused of bribery and corruption by China. The Ministry of Public Security, of which Meng is listed as vice-minister, said in an announcement that Meng was in the custody of party investigators and is being investigated for accepting bribes and other crimes. The ministry said top officials met to discuss Meng’s case.

“We should deeply recognize the serious damage that Meng Hongwei’s bribe-taking and suspected violations of the law have caused the party and the cause of public security and deeply learn from this lesson,” said the announcement about the meeting, chaired by Minister Zhao Lezhi.

Authorities said the investigation of Meng was “very timely, totally right, and very wise,” adding that he was in this situation due to his own “wilfulness and for bringing trouble upon himself.”

“I find it regrettable that the top leader of the organization had to go out this way and that we weren’t specifically notified of what was happening in advance,” Kim said. “We still don’t have sufficient information about what’s happening, or whether it has anything to do with Chinese domestic politics.”

The mysterious disappearance and detaining of the former Interpol head are the latest in a string of top officials, billionaires and an A-list celebrity who mysteriously vanished over the past few months. In early October, one of China’s best-known actresses Fan Bingbing – who disappeared in July – suddenly came forward with a public apology and a fine of 883 million yuan for tax evasion and other offences.

Counterpoint

Meng is the latest high-profile official to be swept up in a broad corruption crackdown by the ruling Communist Party. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said his detaining “has shown the Chinese government’s firm resolve to crack down on corruption and crime”, noting that it “fully demonstrates the party is firm in fighting corruption.” Analysts view the crackdown as a political purge.

Assessment

We assess that the abrupt disappearance and unconventional detaining of the top leader of a global organization without prior notice could hurt China’s image and diplomatic relations abroad. We believe the incident may cast a shadow on the appointment of other Chinese nationals in top international posts due to fears of potential interference by Beijing. We feel that it may also strain relations between China and international organizations institutions, of which the country is a member.

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