Interpol's former president Meng Hongwei reportedly admitted in a Chinese court to accepting US$2.1 million in bribes and other kickbacks, Chinese authorities disclosed on Thursday in a case that raises questions about the autonomy of the world's largest international police organization.
Chinese state media said the confession from Meng, who served as China's 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 by scheming 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 he was repentant. Life sentences for corruption are common under the widespread anti-corruption campaign run directly by China's President Xi Jinping. An admittance of guilt and expression of regret assures a conviction, but it also can sometimes slightly reduce punishment in Chinese courts.
At the time of his arrest, Meng was serving as president of Interpol. He tenure marked the first time a Chinese citizen was at the helm of the 192-nation police organization, which coordinates searches and arrest requests. In October, however, he suddenly vanished while traveling to China from his home in Lyon, France, where Interpol is headquartered. His wife, who remains in France, sought help from French authorities.
Days went by before Chinese authorities confirmed that Xi had targeted Meng as part of the anti-corruption campaign. China did not give advance notice of Meng's arrest to Interpol or to the French government. More than 1 million Communist Party officials have been caught up in Xi's crackdown, which human rights experts and other observers have described as a tactic to eliminate political enemies.
Chinese authorities 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.
Interpol announced Meng submitted his immediate resignation while in detention by the disciplinary organ of China’s ruling Communist Party. Meng had been elected president of Interpol from 2016 to 2020. Meng’s wife, Grace, said Chinese authorities manufactured a politically motivated “fake case” against her husband.
His prosecution in China 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?" said Sophie Richardson, the China director at Human Rights Watch.
Kim Jong Yang of South Korea, an Interpol vice president representing Asia on the organization's executive committee, became 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.
Human rights organizations and prominent critics have been raising questions about the ability of authoritarian leaders in Russia, China and other nations to abuse Interpol’s powers.
Russia, in particular, has long come under fire for using Interpol to arrest and return political enemies who flee 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,” said 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, in a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump and Interpol in November.
The letter called on those in power to block a Russian from succeeding Meng.