In a stunning move that could set back the country’s efforts to expand its global presence, the Chinese Communist Party announced late Sunday that the missing president of Interpol, Meng Hongwei, was under investigation on “suspicion of violating the law” and was “under the supervision” of an anti-corruption watchdog tied to the party.
The announcement that Meng, a Chinese national, was being detained was posted online by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the party’s watchdog against graft and political disloyalty, on Sunday night.
A few hours later, Interpol said it had received Meng’s resignation “with immediate effect.”
The statement of his detention and his subsequent stepping down came a day after Interpol demanded answers from the Chinese government on the whereabouts of Meng, who was reported missing Thursday.
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The detention of Meng, 64, is an audacious step by the party, even by the standards of the increasingly authoritarian system under the leadership of President Xi Jinping. China has sought legitimacy and a leadership role in international organizations, and Meng’s appointment in November 2016 as the president of Interpol, the first Chinese head of the global policing agency, was seen by many as a significant step in that direction.
Meng’s appointment “was considered quite an achievement for China and a sign of its international presence and growing influence,” said Julian Ku, a professor at Hofstra University’s Maurice A. Deane School of Law, who has studied China’s relationship with international law.
While China may have had its eye on placing its citizens in other top posts at prominent global organizations, “the fact that Meng was ‘disappeared’ without any notice to Interpol will undermine this Chinese global outreach effort,” Ku said.
The announcement of Meng’s detention came hours after his wife, Grace, told reporters in Lyon, France, that before her husband had vanished on a trip to China, he had sent her a phone message with an emoji of a knife.
She interpreted the knife image to mean “he is in danger,” she said in a brief statement to reporters Sunday in Lyon, where the two were living and where Interpol is headquartered.
A French police investigation is underway.