Beijing: Meng Hongwei, the Chinese head of Interpol, who vanished mysteriously while on a visit to China, is being investigated for alleged corruption, Beijing announced Monday, becoming the latest top leader to be ensnared in a sweeping anti-graft campaign led by President Xi Jinping.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry stoutly defended Beijing’s unprecedented move to detain and probe Meng, saying that he is being probed for corruption and links with former security czar Zhou Yongkang currently serving a life sentence after being convicted of a series of corruption charges, including bribery, abuse of power and leaking state secrets.
Meng, 64, also a vice minister of public security, was first reported missing in late September after travelling from Interpol’s Headquarters in France to China.Interpol is the global policing agency that coordinates between police forces around the world, including searches for missing and wanted persons. Meng oversaw Interpol’s executive committee, which sets overall strategy.
Concerns over Meng’s whereabouts were first raised by wife, Grace, who reported him missing to French authorities in the city of Lyon, last Thursday.
Grace said that Meng, the first Chinese head of Interpol, sent her a text message with a knife emoji on the day he went missing, indicating that he was in trouble.
On Sunday night, China officially confirmed that Meng is being investigated for suspected breach of law and a lengthy statement by Chinese Ministry of Public Security said he is being probed for bribery and other crimes but did not elaborate.
The statement came after a meeting held by Public Security Minister Zhao Kezhi last night expressed “unanimous support” for the probe against Meng and pledged “absolute political loyalty” to President Xi and the ruling Communist party leadership.
Xi who is regarded as the most powerful leader of China after Mao Zedong and heads the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC), the military and Presidency. He has been designated as the core leader and a constitutional amendment has removed the two-term limit for President paving the way for him to be leader for life.
Xi has promised that would his anti-corruption drive would catch both “tigers and flies” — the powerful as well as ordinary citizens — and has brought down top officials like ex-Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou.
The statement from the public security ministry indicated that Meng is being probed for alleged links with Zhou. Zhou, 75, is the highest Chinese Communist Party official who served as security chief in the previous Hu Jintao regime to have been punished in the massive anti-corruption campaign by President Xi in which over a million officials were punished since he came to power in 2012.
“We should resolutely oppose corruption and resolutely eliminate the pernicious influence of Zhou Yongkang,” the statement by the Ministry of Public Security said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Lu Kang also put up a staunch defence of the detention of Meng, dismissing concerns whether it affected Chinese officials’ ability to hold important positions in the international organisations such as Interpol.
“The case is under investigation. Anybody will be punished seriously if they violate the law. I believe the international community will draw their own conclusion on this,” he said.
The action against Meng has shown Chinese government’s firm resolve to crack down on corruption and crimes and it is also made very clear that this case fully demonstrates that the party is firm in fighting corruption, he said.
On whether China informed Interpol, he said Meng himself submitted a letter for resignation to the Interpol. Chinese government also officially notified the Interpol of this, he said. Asked whether Meng has committed any crime as President of Interpol and whether China will put up a new candidate to replace him, Lu said the probe is still going on.
“As to new candidate for Interpol, we believe the organisation will make arrangements in accordance with its regulation. China will continue support Interpol and step up cooperation in fighting crimes,” he said.
To a question whether Meng would be allowed to have a lawyer, Lu said his case will be handled in accordance with China’s laws and regulations.
Asked whether Meng’s wife who is still in France has been informed, Lu said he has no information to offer on the matter.
In a separate development, Interpol said it had received Meng’s resignation from the international police agency with “immediate effect”, according to statement posted on Sunday. It made no mention of the former Interpol president’s whereabouts or the Chinese investigation.
Following Meng’s resignation, Interpol announced South Korea’s Kim Jong Yang would serve as acting president until the organisation’s general assembly picks a permanent president next month in Dubai.
Meng is the latest high-profile target to be caught in a sweeping anti-corruption campaign spearheaded by President Xi.
One of China’s best-known actresses, Fan Bingbing, reappeared following a lengthy disappearance in the past week, admitting to tax evasion and promising to pay a large fine. China’s military, the world’s largest, has been an important focus of Xi’s campaign against corruption since he took power in 2012.
Dozens of top officers have been probed and jailed, including Gen. Xu Caihou and Gen. Guo Boxiong, both former vice chairmen of the Central Military Commission, which Xi heads.