The head of Interpol, who vanished after taking a flight to Beijing, is being held and investigated for corruption, the Chinese Ministry of Public Security said in a statement Monday.
Meng Hongwei, who was also a vice minister of public security in China, 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 the statement.
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 an earlier statement released on Sunday, the Chinese government said Meng was “under investigation” by the National Supervisory Commission, the country’s top anti-corruption unit, but gave no further details on whether he was in custody or what the charges might be.
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.
She was moved to contact authorities after she received a final text message on September 25, shortly after he arrived in China, with a knife emoji and instructions to “wait for my call.”
That call never came.
The South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong-based newspaper known for its connections inside the Chinese government, said Meng was “taken away” for questioning upon landing in China last week. The newspaper cited an unnamed source.
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 president’s whereabouts or the Chinese investigation.
Loyalty to Xi
Meng is the latest high profile figure to be taken into custody following the wide-ranging campaign against corruption undertaken since Chinese President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012.
The Chinese president promised it would catch both “tigers and flies” — the powerful as well as regular citizens — and has brought down high level officials such as 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 admission by Chinese authorities comes just one week 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.
“That China feels so emboldened to disappear even one of its most famous actresses … should be a real wake up call that anyone within China could be next,” human rights advocate Michael Caster wrote for CNN in September.
Speculation as to the whereabouts of Meng has dominated international headlines, in the face of an initial stony silence from the Chinese government.
Meng has lived in Lyon, where Interpol is headquartered, since assuming the role of president in 2016.
In an emotional press conference Sunday, Grace Meng told reporters that concern for her husband is a matter that “belongs to the international community.” She added, “Although I can’t see my husband, we are always connected by heart.”
Grace, who waited ten days before reporting her husband’s disappearance to French authorities, told police in Lyon that she has received threats on social media and by telephone.
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 the Chinese official’s apparent resignation, Interpol announced South Korea’s Kim Jong Yang would serve as acting president until the organization’s general assembly picks a permanent president next month.
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 was the first Chinese Interpol President and oversaw the agency’s executive committee, which sets overall strategy.
However, there were concerns after the announcement was made that having a top Interpol official with a position in the authoritarian Chinese Communist Party could turn the body towards Beijing’s aims.