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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 October 2018

Mystery persists over fate of missing Interpol chief

Chinese authorities silent amid reports Meng Hongwei was seized after flying home to Beijing in September

Interpol president Meng Hongwei disappeared after leaving for his native China in late September 2018. EPA
Interpol president Meng Hongwei disappeared after leaving for his native China in late September 2018. EPA

The fate of Interpol's Chinese president remained a mystery on Sunday as authorities in Beijing offered no response to the international policing agency's request for information on his whereabouts.

Meng Hongwei, 64, was last seen leaving for China in late September from the Interpol headquarters in Lyon, a source close to the inquiry told Agence France-Presse.

France's interior ministry said on Saturday that French police were investigating Mr Meng's disappearance and that his wife had been placed under police protection after receiving threats.

Mr Meng's wife contacted police in Lyon after not hearing from him since September 25, and after receiving threats by phone and on social media, the ministry said.

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

Interpol has sought clarification from Chinese authorities "to address concerns over the president's well-being", secretary general Jurgen Stock said on Saturday.

News of Mr Meng's disappearance was followed by speculation that the Interpol president — who also serves as a vice minister of China's Ministry of Public Security — had been swept up in Beijing's secretive anti-corruption campaign.

Citing an anonymous source, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post said authorities from the country's disciplinary commission had snatched Mr Meng upon arrival in Beijing.

If confirmed, Mr Meng would be the latest high-profile disappearance in China, where a number of top government officials, billionaire business magnates and even an A-list celebrity have vanished for weeks or months at a time.

China's recently established National Supervisory Commission holds sweeping powers to investigate the country's public servants. While the law requires authorities to inform family members of a detention, it makes exceptions for cases involving national security, terrorism, or concerns over destruction of evidence or witness tampering.

People have been known to disappear into the commission's custody for weeks or even months without a word.

However it is not clear why Mr Meng, who became the first Chinese president of Interpol in 2016 and was to serve until 2020, would be under investigation.

He rose up the ranks of China's domestic security apparatus when it was under the leadership of Zhou Yongkang, a rival of Chinese President Xi Jinping and the highest-ranking official to be snared in an anti-corruption campaign launched by Mr Xi after he took office in 2012.

Zhou, who was sentenced to life in prison in 2014 and subsequently accused of conspiring to seize state power, appointed Mr Meng vice security minister in 2004.

In the role Mr Meng has been entrusted with a number of sensitive portfolios, including heading the China's counter-terrorism division.

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