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Missing chief of Interpol resigns, faces bribery investigation by Beijing

Roslan Rahman, AFP file picture | Meng Hongwei, former president of Interpol, addresses the Interpol World Congress in Singapore on July 4, 2017.

Missing Interpol chief Meng Hongwei has resigned from his post, with Beijing saying Monday he is under investigation for bribery and other crimes. His wife, who fears for his life, has appealed to the international community to help find her husband.

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China had been tight-lipped about the fate of Meng, a Chinese national who was previously vice minister for public security, since French officials disclosed on Friday that he had been reported missing after leaving France for a trip to China last month.

This incident could tarnish Beijing’s efforts to gain leadership posts in international organisations, but it is also humiliating for France-based Interpol, which is tasked with finding missing people, analysts say.

His wife Grace made a bold public appeal to the international community on Sunday to help locate her husband.

The Communist party’s watchdog for graft and political disloyalty said on its website late Sunday that Meng was being investigated by China’s new anti-corruption body, the National Supervision Commission.

The recently established body holds sweeping powers to investigate public figures and officials as part of Xi’s anti-graft campaign, with few requirements for transparency. Some critics of the agency, which has punished more than 1 million officials, say it also functions as a tool for President Xi Jinping to eliminate his political rivals.

Soon after the Chinese statement, Interpol said it had received Meng’s resignation “with immediate effect”.

Operation Fox Hunt

Chinese efforts to track down corrupt officials abroad, known as Operation Fox Hunt, has led to claims in some countries that Chinese law enforcement agents have been operating covertly on their soil without authorisation.

Meng’s is just the latest high-profile disappearance; a number of top government officials, billionaire business magnates and even an A-list celebrity have vanished for weeks or months at a time.

When or if they reappear, it is often in court.

Meng, the first Chinese president of Interpol, was last heard from on September 25 as he left Lyon.

Interpol’s secretary general Juergen Stock, who oversees day-to-day operations, said Saturday the agency was seeking “clarification” on his whereabouts.

>> Reporters: The ‘missing’ that China keeps silent

Meng was appointed in 2016, despite concerns from human rights groups that the appointment gave Chinese President Xi a win in his bid to paint the communist-led country as a responsible player in global affairs.

But his disappearance could be a setback for China.

“Any international organisation should think twice going forward before considering a Chinese candidate to be its head,” Bonnie Glaser, senior Asia adviser at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, told AFP.

Danger emoji

Meng had lived with his wife and two children in France since 2016.

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Meng’s wife Grace said he sent a message telling her to “wait for my call” before sending the knife emoji, signifying danger.

“This matter belongs to the international community,” she told a press conference with her back turned to the cameras out of fears for her safety.

“I’m not sure what has happened to him,” she said.

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

Zhou who was jailed for life in 2014 -- was subsequently accused of conspiring to seize state power.

He appointed Meng vice security minister in 2004.

In that role, Meng was entrusted with a number of sensitive portfolios, including the country’s counter-terrorism division, and was in charge of the response to several major incidents in China’s fractious western region of Xinjiang.

Critics of Meng’s rise to Interpol’s presidency said he would use the position to help China target dissidents abroad.

Interpol has downplayed the concerns, saying the president has little influence over the organisation’s daily operations.

China currently has 44 outstanding red notices, mostly related to murder, intentional injury and drug smuggling, according to Interpol’s website.

During Meng’s tenure, Interpol issued a red notice for fugitive Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui, who threatened to reveal corruption at the country’s highest levels and is accused by Chinese authorities of money laundering.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)

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