Meng Hongwei, the Chinese head of Interpol, who vanished mysteriously late last month, is being investigated for alleged corruption, China announced Monday, the latest high-profile target to be ensnared in a sweeping anti-graft campaign led by President Xi Jinping.
Meng, who was also a vice minister of public security in China, 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.
Concerns over Meng’s whereabouts were first raised by wife, Grace, who reported him missing to French authorities in the city of Lyon, where the couple live, last Thursday.
Grace has revealed 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.
Meng, 64, has been accused by the Chinese government of accepting bribes and committing unspecified other crimes.
“(Meng) insisted on taking the wrong path and had only himself to blame (for his downfall),” the country’s top law enforcement official, Zhao Kezhi, was quoted as saying in a statement Monday.
Chinese authorities had previously remained tight-lipped about the whereabouts of Meng, following his sudden disappearance last month after he flew from France to China.
In a separate development, Interpol said it had received Meng’s resignation from the international police agency with “immediate effect” according to statement posted Sunday.
It made no mention of the former Interpol president’s whereabouts or the Chinese investigation.
Monday’s statement on the ministry of public security’s website provided no details about the bribes Meng allegedly took or the other crimes he has been accused of, but indicated that he was also being investigated for political lapses.
The South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong-based newspaper known for its connections within the Chinese government, said Meng was “taken away” for questioning upon landing in China last week.
Meng is the latest high-profile target to be ensnared in a sweeping anti-corruption campaign spearheaded by President Xi, who assumed power in 2012.
The Chinese president promised it 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 and former security tzar Zhou Yongkang.
In the statement on Monday, Chinese authorities alluded to ties between Zhou and Meng, who rose through the government’s security apparatus under Zhou.
The statement said Meng’s fall highlighted Xi’s resolve in cleaning up the ruling Communist Party and stressed the importance of political loyalty to the Party’s leadership under Xi.
The widely-publicised arrest of Meng came after another prominent Chinese figure on the world stage appeared to vanish after falling foul of Beijing.
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.
Meng has lived in Lyon, where Interpol is headquartered, since assuming the role of president in 2016.
In an emotional press conference on Sunday, Grace told reporters that concern for her husband is a matter that “belongs to the international community.”
“Although I can’t see my husband, we are always connected by heart,” she was quoted as saying by CNN.
In a statement Friday, the French Interior Ministry confirmed that it was looking into the situation and that a “suitable police mechanism” had been put in place to guarantee Grace Meng’s safety.
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.
When Meng was chosen as the next President of Interpol in 2016 it was warmly welcomed by Beijing, who said China was ready to “take on bigger responsibility and make greater contribution to push for global law enforcement.”
Meng oversaw the agency’s executive committee, which sets overall strategy.