International Criminal Police Organization


Nine days after her husband disappeared on a routine trip to China, Grace Meng frantically dialed a contact at Interpol, the global police agency, to report him as a missing person. His name? Meng Hongwei. Job title? President of Interpol.

Ms. Meng, the wife of the senior Communist Party member, had received an ominous alert from her husband, one of the world’s top cops. His last text to her, at 12:30 p.m. on the September day he arrived in Beijing, was “wait for my call” followed by a butcher knife emoji. The message was clear to her. He had run afoul of China’s powerful president and was heading to prison.

For a week she hoped for his release, likely accompanied by an apology for falling short of Communist Party ideals. Then, his Chinese support staff at Interpol’s Lyon headquarters stopped answering their phones. Next, a phone call from a male voice threatened her in Chinese. “Don’t talk, just listen,” he said. “We have two teams coming for you.” Her home security alarm went off several times that day.

Ms. Meng asked a Polish Interpol officer she knew to meet her in the back of a Lyon charcuterie shop, where she laid out her worries: The Chinese government jailed my husband and is trying to kidnap me.

In China’s long bid to gain greater influence on the global stage, placing a senior cop at the top of Interpol was meant to be a diplomatic achievement. China wanted to shoulder a bigger role in the world of international law enforcement. It also wanted Interpol’s help reeling in fugitives facing charges of alleged corruption back home, where President Xi Jinping had launched a crackdown dubbed Operation Fox Hunt.

In a twist, Mr. Meng, leading the hunt, became a target. China’s anticorruption agency said Mr. Meng was arrested for accepting bribes and for using his position to land his wife prestigious jobs in the financial industry. After months of silence, a Communist disciplinary committee in March said he had “refused to enact decisions of the party center” and found he “wantonly and lavishly spent state funds to satisfy his family’s luxurious lifestyle.” On Tuesday, it announced an indictment against Mr. Meng, who had been one of the country’s highest-ranking officials abroad. The anticorruption agency didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Ms. Meng and Interpol veterans her husband worked with denied the accusations. They describe the charges as part of an expansion of power by President Xi. China had also made clear it wasn’t happy about how he was failing to bring Interpol in line with its agenda.

Mr. Meng hasn’t been heard from since he was apparently taken into custody in Beijing on Sept. 25. He was halfway through his four-year term as president of Interpol, and settled in France. Over Michelin-star meals, he had courted Western leaders with assurances that China would help strengthen the confederation of police organizations and the international world order it represents.

Behind the scenes, the 64-year-old security official was juggling demands from his bosses back home to support China’s anticorruption campaign, while also fighting bureaucratic battles to expand the president’s role to have more control of day-to-day policy, according to Interpol staff who worked with him.

It was a first for a Chinese official to helm the small but respected international police agency, which has helped law enforcement track suspected criminals across borders since 1923.

Interpol doesn’t investigate or prosecute crime. Its most important job is maintaining a database of “red notices” that signal to countries around the world that a fugitive has entered their country. Within minutes of receiving the name of a person wanted in one country, national police in another can close the dragnet.

In recent years, governments in Russia, Turkey and China have used red notices as a political tool, causing police to detain dissidents at borders around the world.

As Interpol president, Mr. Meng wasn’t delivering the red notices China wanted, according to people familiar with his activities. Tensions with higher-ups back home had risen to the point that he made arrangements to live abroad after his tenure was over—an escape plan seen as dangerous because of his deep knowledge of party secrets.

Mr. Meng had been running China’s Interpol branch for more than 10 years. He had previously overseen China’s coast guard and jointly commanded nearly two million officers as a vice minister of public security—the Chinese bureau known as the “knife handle” of the Communist Party since the days of Mao Zedong. Human Rights Watch has called it a “notoriously abusive agency” that operated a network of “black jails,” or secret detention centers, across the country.

For days, she hardly slept waiting for his call. Strange things started happening. A Chinese businessman whom she hadn’t spoken to for years called out of the blue, insisting she board his private jet for a trip to the Czech Republic to assist with a business deal. She declined. The next day he asked her to come with him on a vacation—or to a meeting about the U.S. trade war—changing the reasons why she should board his jet. She could see he was nervous and decided to ignore him.

Her phone mysteriously lost coverage. She used a backup cell to call her husband’s Chinese aides, but their phones were switched off. She had shared the new number with almost nobody, but soon unknown callers repeatedly dialed it.

Finally, she called her Polish friend at Interpol who told her the organization had also been trying to contact her husband but had been assured by Chinese counterparts that Mr. Meng was celebrating a local holiday. She didn’t believe it.

She moved into a hotel and another Interpol friend called French police, who sent officers to guard the room. The next morning, a Chinese couple entered the hotel restaurant after she sat down for breakfast with her 7-year-old twins. One of the two, a balding, middle-aged man, walked to reception and asked for the room number where Ms. Meng was staying. The receptionist refused. Police shepherded Ms. Meng and the children into a car to change hotels. She soon went into hiding.

The Chinese Embassy called to offer her news from her husband—if she would come to the embassy alone, without police. She refused.

On Oct. 6, a Chinese delegation arrived at Interpol. They brought a piece of paper bearing a single sentence in English. “I, being suspected of violating the law, voluntarily resign from the position of President of Interpol.” There was no signature. It purported to be a translation of a confession Mr. Meng had signed in Beijing the day before.

BTW, the title of the piece refers to Interpol itself, as opposed to what you probably were thinking.

One Response to “International Criminal Police Organization”

  1. feeblemind Says:

    What strikes me as interesting about this whole affair is that there has been so little international outcry.

    Indeed I have heard little more than crickets chirping over the entire incident.

    So why has the international community been so silent?

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