PARIS — French authorities launched an investigation into the disappearance of Interpol President Meng Hongwei, whose wife informed French police that he went missing after returning to his native China last week, local media reported Friday.
Meng, a former government minister, was last seen Sept. 29, his wife said, according to unnamed French police officials cited by France’s Europe 1 radio station. Other police officials also confirmed the investigation to the Reuters news agency.
Interpol — headquartered in Lyon, France — is an international organization facilitating police cooperation across borders. Meng’s wife reported her husband’s disappearance to French authorities because she has been living in France with their children, Europe 1 reported.
A spokeswoman for France’s Interior Ministry, which oversees the national police force, did not immediately respond to a request for independent confirmation. Neither did a spokeswoman for the Lyon prosecutor, which oversees investigations in the region.
In a statement, Interpol said only that the disappearance is a “matter for the relevant authorities in both France and China” and declined to elaborate further.
Meng, 64, was named president of Interpol in November 2016, and his term is slated to end in 2020. He is the first Chinese citizen to head the body and was previously China’s vice minister of public security.
The circumstances of his disappearance have raised the possibility that he may have fallen into the dragnet of China’s multiyear anti-corruption campaign, which has seen thousands of officials and business executives suddenly vanish before reemerging to face government charges months later.
That would be a stunning reversal for Meng, who was elected to lead Interpol two years ago at the precise moment China was seeking international help to arrest officials accused of corruption. In recent years, China has submitted to Interpol long lists of repatriation targets for Interpol to issue “red notices” — international alerts for people who are wanted — for what it says are corrupt fugitives.
At the time of his appointment, human rights groups expressed concern about the opacity of China’s legal system and warned that Beijing could use its clout in Interpol to arrest political dissidents.
During Meng’s tenure, China has submitted “red notices” for dissident business executives and figures who include the German national Dolkun Isa, the head of the Munich-based World Uighur Congress, an organization that represents the Uighur minority in far western China. China has labeled Isa a terrorist but has not provided public proof.
China last year also requested multiple Interpol red notices seeking the arrest of Guo Wengui, a dissident billionaire who fled to New York while claiming he possessed explosive secrets about the leadership of China’s Communist Party.