There are more than 1,300 missing people on Interpol’s website but its Chinese head Meng Hongwei does not appear to be one of them. Strictly speaking, he is in China after being arrested at Beijing’s international airport on corruption charges.
Yet he has not been seen by his wife Grace since September 25 when he left Lyon, home to the international crime-fighting agency.
Speaking to the media at a hotel in the ancient city of France’s Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region, she confirmed that the last contact with her husband came via a WhatsApp text message with a “knife emoji” and the instructions: “Wait for my call.”
Grace is still waiting.
“Although I can’t see my husband, we are always connected by [our] hearts,” she said.
Outside the Chinese state-security system, it appears Vice-Minister of Public Security Meng has not spoken to a single person, including family and colleagues.
Before resigning on Sunday, he was the president of Interpol, which is largely symbolic but crucial for inter-country relations. Secretary-General Juergen Stock oversees the day-to-day operation.
“Today, Sunday, October 7, the INTERPOL General Secretariat in Lyon, France received the resignation of Mr Meng Hongwei as President of INTERPOL with immediate effect,” the global anti-crime agency said in a statement from its headquarters in Charles de Gaulle Quai, or wharf.
“Under the terms of INTERPOL’s Constitution and internal regulations, the Senior Vice-President serving on INTERPOL’s Executive Committee, Mr Kim Jong Yang of South Korea, becomes the Acting President,” it added.
After French officials announced his disappearance on Friday, Beijing authorities finally broke their silence nearly 48 hours later.
In a statement released by the official Xinhua news agency, it was revealed that Meng was being interviewed for serious violations of state law, according to the secretive anti-corruption body, the National Supervisory Commission.
Then, on Monday, the powerful Public Security Ministry pointed out that the former Interpol investigator was being accused of accepting “bribes” without providing further evidence.
“It shows that no one is above the law with no exceptions. Anyone who violates the law will be seriously investigated and severely punished”
While his whereabouts in Beijing, or China, are still unknown, he looks to have been caught up in President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive.
“Meng accepted bribes and the investigation [being conducted] clearly expresses comrade Xi Jinping’s determination to fully carry out the struggle against graft,” a statement by the Public Security Ministry reiterated.
“It shows that no one is above the law with no exceptions. Anyone who violates the law will be seriously investigated and severely punished,” it added.
Past associations might have proved to be his downfall.
He came through the ranks of China’s security apparatus under Zhou Yongkang, a leading rival to Xi, who became the highest-ranking official to be entangled in corruption charges.
He was later jailed for life in 2014 after being accused of conspiring to seize state power.
Yet many believe the President’s anti-corruption campaign is being used to imprison his enemies and silence critics.
Since the National People’s Congress earlier this year, the Supervisory Commission has become a draconian organization with sweeping powers to investigate and arrest senior business figures and public servants with little or no transparency.
“The understanding and practice are that once [it] launches an investigation, legal counsel will not be allowed,” Qin Qianhong, a professor of law at Wuhan University, said, adding that legal access had been denied to people once they had been detained.
“This means that suspects are not only denied access to a lawyer during the liuzhi [early] phase but throughout the whole operational process where the supervisory commission is involved,” Qin added.
If that is the case, the next time Meng is seen in public will be a courtroom, despite his Interpol connections.