French authorities have launched an investigation into the disappearance of International Criminal Political Investigation (Interpol) Chief Meng Hongwei.
Meng, a Chinese national who served a lengthy term as the vice minister for public security, went missing during a visit to China, French police said on Friday.
The probe was launched after Meng’s wife reported his disappearance to police in Lyon, France’s second-largest city where the agency is headquartered. According to AFP news agency, Meng was last seen in Lyon in late September.
Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, citing an unnamed source, said the 64-year-old was under investigation in China and had been taken away for questioning as soon as he landed there.
Interpol said it was aware of reports in connection with Meng’s alleged disappearance.
“This is a matter for the relevant authorities in both France and China,” the agency said in a statement.
French police sources told Reuters news agency their investigation was into what is termed in France a “worrying disappearance”.
Interpol’s mandate is to help different countries coordinate policing efforts and notify each other when wanted suspects are detected.
Meng has nearly 40 years of experience in criminal justice and policing, and has overseen matters related to legal institutions, narcotics control and counterterrorism, according to Interpol’s website.
Meng is listed on the website of China’s Ministry of Public Security as a vice-minister, but lost his seat on its key Communist Party Committee in April, the South China Morning Post said.
He was named president of Interpol in 2016.
Critics suggested that Meng’s election gave Beijing a chance to enlist more international help in tracking down alleged economic criminals, including corrupt officials, targeted by President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign.
But Interpol has in the past denied this, saying its head does not intervene in day-to-day operations, which are handled by secretary-general Juergen Stock, a German.
The Chinese clampdown on corruption, known as Operation Fox Hunt, has led to claims in some countries that Chinese law enforcement agents have been operating covertly on their soil without the approval or consent of local authorities. Some critics also view the campaign as a way for President Xi to purge the party of political foes. Since it began, several top officials have been detained and charged with crimes including “severe disciplinary violations”, a phrase that usually refers to corruption.
French paper Le Monde reported on Friday that this is not the first time a high-ranking Chinese official or businessmen living abroad has disappeared.
“The procedure’s often the same. The people are arrested during a sojourn in China […] and are then deprived of their liberty and interrogated for periods of time that can extend to months,” Le Monde said.