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article imageInterpol's former Chinese chief accused of bribery

By Ryan MCMORROW (AFP)     Oct 7, 2018 in World

The former Chinese head of Interpol, who went missing last month, was accused of accepting bribes on Monday, becoming the latest top official to fall in President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption dragnet.

After days of concealing the fate of Meng Hongwei -- who is also China's vice minister for public security -- from the international community, the public security ministry said Monday he had accepted bribes but provided no further details on the allegations or the conditions and location of Meng's apparent detention.

French officials disclosed on Friday that Meng had been reported missing after leaving France for China, while his wife voiced concern for his life on Sunday some two weeks after he texted her an ominous knife emoji.

His case could tarnish Beijing's efforts to gain leadership posts in international organisations, but it is also a black eye for France-based Interpol, which is tasked with finding missing people, analysts say.

Interpol said Sunday that Meng had resigned and would be temporarily replaced by a South Korean official until a new election in November -- hours after China's anti-graft body, the National Supervisory Commission, said he was under investigation for violating unspecified laws.

The public security ministry released a statement Monday afternoon, saying Meng accepted bribes and that the investigation "clearly expressed comrade Xi Jinping's" determination to fully carry out the struggle against graft.

It did not provide more details about the allegations.

"It shows that no one is above the law with no exceptions. Anyone who violates the law will be seriously investigated and severely punished," the statement said, adding others suspected of accepting bribes alongside Meng would be investigated and dealt with.

Meng is the latest high-profile Chinese citizen to disappear, with a number of top government officials, billionaire business magnates and even an A-list celebrity vanishing for weeks or months at a time.

When -- or if -- they reappear, it is often in court.

A journalist holds the mobile phone of Grace  the wife of the missing Interpol president Meng Hongwe...
A journalist holds the mobile phone of Grace, the wife of the missing Interpol president Meng Hongwey, showing wath she says is the last message exchanged with her husband, during a press conference on October 7, 2018 in Lyon

Meng, the first Chinese president of Interpol, was last heard from on September 25 as he left Lyon, where Interpol is headquartered.

Meng was appointed in 2016, despite concerns from human rights groups about giving Chinese President Xi Jinping a win in his bid to paint the communist-led country as a responsible player in global affairs.

But the episode could be a setback for China. Interpol was kept in the dark about Meng's disappearance, prompting its secretary general Juergen Stock, who oversees day-to-day operations, to say Saturday the agency was seeking "clarification" on his whereabouts.

"Any international organisation should think twice going forward before considering a Chinese candidate to be its head," Bonnie Glaser, senior Asia adviser at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, told AFP.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Beijing will continue to support Interpol's work and "strengthen pragmatic cooperation" with its member states to crack down on crime.

- Danger emoji -

Meng had lived with his wife and two children in France since 2016.

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Meng's wife Grace said she had received a message from his phone containing a knife emoji before his disappearance.

Grace  the wife of the missing Interpol president Meng Hongwey  talks to journalists on October 7  2...
Grace, the wife of the missing Interpol president Meng Hongwey, talks to journalists on October 7, 2018 in Lyon during a press conference during which she did not want her face to be shown

That day, Grace Meng said he sent a message telling her to "wait for my call", before sending the emoji signifying danger.

"This matter belongs to the international community," she told a press conference with her back turned to the cameras out of fear for her safety.

"I'm not sure what has happened to him," she said.

The recently established National Supervisory Commission holds sweeping powers to investigate public servants, with few requirements for transparency.

Some critics of Xi's anti-graft campaign -- which has punished more than one million officials -- say it also functions as a tool for the Communist Party general secretary to eliminate his political rivals.

- Red notices -

Meng rose through the ranks of the country's domestic security apparatus when it was under the leadership of Zhou Yongkang, a rival to Xi and the highest-ranking official to be brought down on corruption charges.

More than one million officials have been punished in Chinese President Xi Jinping's anti-graft...
More than one million officials have been punished in Chinese President Xi Jinping's anti-graft campaign

Zhou -- who was jailed for life in 2014 -- was subsequently accused of conspiring to seize state power.

The security ministry called for "Meng Hongwei's acceptance of bribes to be deeply understood" and to "thoroughly eliminate the pernicious influence of Zhou Yongkang".

Zhou appointed Meng vice security minister in 2004.

In that role, Meng has been entrusted with a number of sensitive portfolios, including the country's counter-terrorism division, and was in charge of the response to several major incidents in China's fractious western region of Xinjiang.

Critics of Meng's rise to Interpol's presidency said he would use the position to help China target dissidents abroad.

Interpol downplayed those concerns, saying the president has little influence over the organisation's day-to-day operations.

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