In a case that raises questions about Interpol’s autonomy, its former president Meng Hongwei was reported on Thursday to have admitted in a Chinese court to accepting $2.1 million in bribes and other kickbacks.
Chinese state media said the confession from Meng, China’s former vice minister of public security, came at a trial in northern China over accusations by a government anti-corruption body that he abused his power to “willfully squander national assets to give his family a luxurious life.” A verdict was expected later from Tianjin No.1 Intermediate Court, which released photos of Meng and indicated that Meng was repentant.
At the time of his arrest, Meng was serving as president of Interpol. It marked the first time that a Chinese citizen had been at the helm of the world’s largest international police organization, which coordinates searches and arrest requests. But in October, he suddenly vanished while traveling to China from his home in Lyon, France, where Interpol is headquartered. His wife then sought help from French authorities.
Days went by before Chinese authorities confirmed China’s President Xi Jinping had targeted Meng as part of a widespread anti-corruption campaign. China did not give notice to Interpol or the French government in advance. More than 1 million Communist Party officials have been caught up in Xi’s crackdown that critics describe as a tactic to eliminate his political enemies.
The prosecution was “hardly a fair trial — and kills [the] prospect that he will ever be held accountable for abuses by MPS [the Ministry of Public Security] during his tenure at the top. What rule of law?” asked Sophie Richardson, the China director at Human Rights Watch.
Interpol finally announced that Meng Hongwei had turned up and submitted his immediate resignation while in detention by the disciplinary organ of China’s ruling Communist Party. Meng was elected president of the 192-nation Interpol organization from 2016 to 2020.
Chinese authorities had released a statement saying Meng was “under investigation by the National Supervision Commission for alleged violations of laws.” The commission is the disciplinary organ of China’s ruling Communist Party.
Kim Jong Yang of South Korea, a vice president representing Asia on Interpol’s executive committee, became the acting president until November, when Interpol’s General Assembly elected him as the new president to serve out the remaining two years of Meng’s term until 2o20.
But human rights organizations and critics raised questions about the ability of authoritarian leaders in Russia, China and other nations to abuse Interpol’s powers.
Russia has long come under fire for using Interpol to arrest and return political enemies who fled abroad by pressuring for approval of international warrants, called red notices, that request police detention of missing or wanted people.
“Russia routinely abuses Interpol for the purpose of settling scores and harassing political opponents, dissidents and journalists,” four U.S. senators, Democrats Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Chris Coons of Delaware and Republicans Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Marco Rubio of Florida, wrote to U.S. President Donald Trump and Interpol in November, urging them to block a Russian from succeeding Meng.