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Detained In China, Interpol President Resigns Over Bribery Charges


Until recently, the head of Interpol, the international police organization based in France, was a man named Meng Hongwei. He's from China. But in a stunning move, China's government detained Meng, put him under investigation, and now he has resigned from Interpol. I talked to NPR's Shanghai correspondent Rob Schmitz and asked him, what do we know about Meng?

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Well, Meng Hongwei is 64 years old. He served as the vice minister of the public security bureau, which is China's national police. In 2016, he became the first Chinese head of Interpol, and his election was a big victory for China's government, which, under leader Xi Jinping, was eager to use Interpol to locate and extradite Chinese officials that it deemed corrupt who had escaped China. But as it turns out, Meng himself is now under investigation by Chinese authorities for corruption.

KING: What exactly are they investigating him for?

SCHMITZ: Well, China's government hasn't released any details besides that he's under investigation for bribery and other unspecified crimes. And the little we know about how his detention unfolded has come from his wife, Grace Meng.

On September 25, the day her husband arrived to China for a visit, she allegedly received a text from him that said, wait for my call, which was followed by an emoji of a knife, suggesting that he was in danger. A week later, she reported him missing to French police. On Sunday, she spoke to reporters in Lyon, France, where Interpol is headquartered. And here's what she said.


GRACE MENG: (Through interpreter) I'm speaking on behalf of my husband, my children, all the people of my motherland, for all the wives and children, husbands and fathers so that they may no longer disappear.

SCHMITZ: And, as you can hear in that tape, Noel, she's crying during this part of the video, with her back turned to the camera because she's received threats and is under protection by French police.

KING: Well, when she talks there about the husbands and fathers who've disappeared in China, what does she mean?

SCHMITZ: Well, she's talking about the government's anti-corruption campaign. It was launched by Xi Jinping immediately after he took office in 2013. And it snared hundreds of thousands of officials, both on the local level as well as among the highest echelons of the party.

In fact, the man who appointed Meng Hongwei to vice minister of public security was Zhou Yongkang, the highest-ranking Chinese official who was brought down by this campaign. Zhou was a former member of the Politburo Standing Committee, the group of seven men who rule China. He was China's security czar before he was sent to prison for life in 2015.

KING: Rob, by removing Meng from the presidency of Interpol, China loses a lot of sway within that organization. That much is clear. What does this mean for Interpol?

SCHMITZ: Well, even before this happened, China's use of Interpol under Meng's presidency was starting to raise some red flags. Earlier this year, China attempted to issue a red notice - that's an international alert for a wanted person - for an exiled Uighur activist. Uighurs are a mostly Muslim ethnic minority who live in northwestern China, who China's government blames for unrest and who are increasingly being sent to reeducation camps.

Other members of Interpol vetoed that particular red notice after China could not provide any evidence of criminal wrongdoing. But it was an example of how China was using the organization for its own political means. And this case with Meng is a good example of how China's messy politics is spilling over into international organizations.

KING: Really interesting stuff. NPR's Rob Schmitz joined us from Shanghai.

Thanks, Rob.

SCHMITZ: Thanks, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.
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