Interpol Chief Has Gone Missing

French authorities suspect Meng Hongwei is being held as a political prisoner

Meng Hongwei and Prince Charles
Pool / Getty Images

French authorities suspect Meng Hongwei is being held as a political prisoner

BBC has reported that Interpol President Meng Hongwei has disappeared on a trip to China, and has not been heard from for nearly two weeks. Meng Hongwei was last seen leaving the Interpol headquarters in Lyon, France, on July 25. He was reported missing by his wife, who CNN reports has also received threats by phone and by social networks.

An unnamed source close to the investigation told the Agence France Press that “He did not disappear in France,”according to the South China Morning Post, which also quotes an unnamed source that Meng Hongwei was “‘taken away’ for questioning by discipline authorities ‘as soon as he landed in China’ last week.”

Meng Hongwei’s disappearance is being investigated by the French Interior Ministry, but it is not yet clear why he has been detained or where he is being held. “Exchanges with Chinese authorities continue,” the interior ministry said. “France is puzzled about the situation of Interpol’s President and concerned about the threats made to his wife.” They did not provide further details on the investigation or what threats had been made.

Chinese officials have not commented on Meng Hongwei’s situation or whereabouts.

Xi Jinping at Interpol Assembly
Xi Jinping on September 26, 2017 in Beijing, China. Lintao Zhang / Getty Images

Interpol issued a statement earlier today that Interpol was aware of the “alleged disappearance” of Meng Hongwei, but that it “is a matter for the relevant authorities in France and China.” They concluded their statement by noting that “INTERPOL’S General Secretariat headquarters will not comment further.”

Meng Hongwei, 64, was appointed to the office of Interpol president in 2016, after a 40-year career in criminal justice. A Chinese national, he is responsible for guiding Interpol’s Executive Committee, which sets the overall direction of the organization and provides operations guidance. Prior to his appointment, he served as the deputy minister for public security in China and is a senior official in the Chinese Communist Party. Most of his experience has been in the fields of drugs, counter-terrorism, and border security.

Meng Hongwei’s appointment as Interpol president was somewhat controversial, as critics suggested that Beijing would use the office to obtain critical inside information on western nations as well as abuse the office’s authority to repatriate Chinese political refugees, dissidents, and fugitives. For their part, China seemed to prize Meng Hongwei’s election to the prestigious post, adding more fuel to such speculation.

While the sudden public disappearance of China’s senior Communist Party officials seems to be an emerging pattern (actor Fan Bingbing disappeared in June amid allegations of tax evasion) which typically ends with imprisonment, Meng Hongwei’s case is notable not only because he is a man of international importance and esteem, but also because of the mystery surrounding his vanishing. It is uncertain why the China Communist Party would elect to take such strident public action against an important international official, or what Meng Hongwei might have done that would make Beijing effectively forfeit the top office at Interpol. Also, relatives of imprisoned party officials rarely engage foreign authorities in the matter for fear of retribution against their loved ones, so Meng Hongwei’s wife reporting his disappearance to the French Interior Ministry suggests that the threats she received were extremely alarming.

The investigation and imprisonment of senior party officials is rarely a rapid process in China, so it will likely be a long time before this mystery has any resolution.