Interpol President Disappears, Resigns, and Reappears in China
Meng Hongwei, president of the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), was reported missing by his wife after he left his residence in France on a trip back to his home country of China in the last week of September. Rumors that swirled about his whereabouts were put to rest last Sunday when the Chinese government confirmed that Meng had been detained for “suspected violations of unspecified state law.” Interpol reported that it had received Meng’s resignation the same day, which was to have immediate effect.
Considering Meng’s second role as a Vice-Minister of China’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS), his disappearance, resignation, and detention in China was largely unexpected.
Interpol is the largest global network of police organizations, made up of officials from over 190 different states that provide operational and technical assistance to national and even local law enforcement agencies. It can issue international arrest warrants, in which a member country may request a provisional arrest of an individual. Yet, its powers are limited in scope due the difference in laws between countries and the consensus among countries to respect each other’s sovereignty.
When Meng was elected as Interpol’s president in 2016, it signalled China’s expanding global influence as it was the first time that a Chinese citizen became the president of Interpol.For Meng, it meant a greater prominence in a wider community. He had long held a high level position in the higher echelons of the Chinese Communist Party.
Shortly after Meng’s appointment was announced in 2016, human rights activists raised concerns that China would use Meng as a means to issue more international arrest warrants for the purpose of hunting down political enemies. Human rights organization Amnesty International’s East Asia director, Nicholas Bequelin, criticized the appointment as “[seeming] at odds with Interpol’s mandate to work in the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
Interpol’s constitution prohibits “any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character,” although some countries (including Russia and China) have used this to capture political enemies. However, many dismissed the notion that the Chinese government had some new means to abuse international arrest warrants as they point to the ceremonial nature of the president’s duties — which includes roles as giving speeches in the organization’s events and traveling as a representative to governments.
Now that the international community is informed of his whereabouts, it still remains a mystery as to exactly why Meng has been arbitrarily detained by the Chinese government. MPS — the Ministry that Meng’s Chinese government job is located in — is the very organization that conducts anti-corruption campaigns. In one such undertaking, named Operation Fox Hunt, MPS sought repatriation of hundreds of Chinese citizens, including business people and government officials who fled abroad due to alleged corruption, to varying degrees of success.
In a statement published on the MPS website on Monday, Oct. 8, the Chinese government formally charged Meng with taking bribes and announced the formation of a separate task force to investigate Meng’s associates before noting that Meng’s case was to be handed off to the National Supervisory Commission, China’s new anti-corruption agency. With the Minister of Public Security Zhao Kezhi pledging “absolute political loyalty” to Chinese President Xi Jinping and observers noting Meng’s ties with Zhou Yongkang, a former Minister of Public Security that was convicted of corruption-related charges amid President Xi Jinping’s “anti-corruption” campaign in 2013, Meng’s sudden fall from grace hints at some deeper political confrontation in Beijing and further speculation over the future of Chinese citizens leading international organizations.