LYON, France (AP) – The wife of the former Interpol president, who disappeared in Beijing in 2018 and was jailed, says she fears a similar fate may await China’s latest candidate for a role in the international police body.
China confirmed this week that it intends to seek a seat on the governing body of the 13-member Interpol, but did not say who its candidate will be. Overseas lawmakers and rights activists fearing China wants to use Interpol’s reach and influence to persecute critics in exile said the candidate is a senior Chinese police official, Hu Binchen.
The wife of the imprisoned former Interpol president Meng Hongwei, Grace Meng, told in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press that she and her husband know Hu well and that they were friends. Hu works in China’s powerful Ministry of Public Security. It is part of the security apparatus that helps keep China’s ruling Communist Party in power, enforcing its tight lid on dissent.
Grace Meng said that Hu and her husband – who was Deputy Minister of Public Security before he was purged and imprisoned on corruption charges – were colleagues for many years. She says they were so close that Meng’s twin boys knew Hu as “uncle.”
“Mr Hu Binchen is someone I know extremely well because he used to be Mr Meng’s subordinate. He worked with Mr Meng for about 20 years. I have also known Mr Hu for about 10 years,” she said. It was conducted this week in Lyon, France, where Interpol is based and where she has been since her husband’s disappearance has been granted asylum. and live under French police protection with their children.
She said an Interpol role for Hu could be fraught with danger – including, possibly, for himself. She said Hu could be in a very difficult position, with loyalty possibly split between his former colleague and the need to obey the Communist Party.
“Currently, in the absence of a better sentence, China is eradicating the ‘harmful influence’ of Mr Meng Hongwei and carrying out a political purge,” she said. “So if Mr. Hu Binchen sympathizes with us or helps us or expresses kindness to us, it will mean that he is violating party discipline. If he respects party discipline, he will go against basic human goodness. So this is a problem.”
“One day, will Mr. Hu Binchen also disappear, as will Mr. Meng?” she asked.
Interpol’s executive committee and its new president will be elected at a general meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, next week. The governing body oversees Interpol’s Executive Administrator, the Secretary – General. It also sets out the policy and direction of the Global Police Organization, which works on common law enforcement issues and helps countries catch suspects for criminals by issuing international searches.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said through spokesman Zhao Lijian that China will nominate a candidate because it wants to “actively support the organization’s goals of fighting terrorism, fighting transnational crime and making the world safer.”
“Interpol is a professional organization for combating transnational crime and should not be disturbed by political and other factors,” Zhao said.
Meng Hongwei was elected Interpol President in November 2016, but served less than two years of what was meant to be a 4-year term. He was immediately replaced by a then vice president, Kim Jong Yang of South Korea, whose presidency is now ending.
After he disappeared, China announced in 2019 that Meng had been deprived of his membership of the Communist Party. In January 2020, a court announced that he had been sentenced to 13 years and six months in prison accused of having received more than $ 2 million in bribes.
The court said he confessed his guilt and expressed regret. His wife has long claimed that the accusations were trumped up and that her husband was purged because he had used his high-profile position to push for change.
In the AP interview this week, Grace Meng said she remains “extremely angry at Interpol” for its handling of the affair. She is particularly unhappy that it quickly accepted his resignation with immediate effect, as the circumstances and reasons for his disappearance were shrouded in mystery..
She followed up the interview with a letter to Interpol seeking information. She asked it to elaborate on the steps it has taken to ensure that her husband is alive and to have access to him, and to determine whether he has freely given his notice and has had access to legal assistance.
“How could the president of one of the most powerful international organizations disappear in the middle of his mandate, and Interpol react by informing the world that it had nothing more to say?” she asked in the letter.
In a statement to the AP, a spokesman for Interpol said China had withdrawn Meng as his delegate to the body after his disappearance, meaning he “could no longer be considered president.” It said the corruption charges against him had not been related to Interpol or his role there.
“While the situation regarding Mrs Meng, from a human perspective, is unfortunate, Mrs Meng’s allegations against Interpol are incorrect,” the statement said.