Ex-Interpol chief Meng Hongwei may have vanished in China forever

BEIJING -- China's detention of the head of Interpol, the international police organization, is shining a harsh light on Beijing's authoritarian crackdown on alleged graft and disloyalty. Meng Hongwei, a Chinese citizen who worked for years in China's security institutions before heading up Interpol, mysteriously vanished during a trip home and was forced to resign his post.

China has said he's being investigated for bribery and other crimes, but the way they apprehended him was a bold and brazen move by the Chinese government, and CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy says there could be significant consequences.

Some are now questioning whether Chinese officials should be tapped to lead international organizations like Interpol if the Chinese government can simply make them vanish.

Meng was named president of Interpol in 2016 and was living in Lyon, France, where the organization is based. He came back to China for a visit last month and went missing. His wife says before he disappeared, she received a text message from him showing a knife emoji, and she believes it was to warn her he was in danger.

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This photo shows the last message sent by former Interpol President, Meng Hongwei (L), to his wife, Grace Meng. Mrs. Meng showed reporters the message, on her mobile phone, during a press conference in Lyon, central France, on Oct. 7, 2018, where Interpol is based.

Reuters/AP

The Chinese government now admits they detained Meng and are accusing him of taking bribes and other crimes.

Interpol says it was not informed Meng was under investigation, and the Chinese only admitted to having him in custody after Interpol demanded an explanation.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has led a high-profile crackdown on corruption in the Communist Party. In the past six years, more than 1.5 million party officials have been punished. But it is also widely viewed as a way for Xi to take down political rivals and those he considers disloyal.

In China the courts answer to the Communist Party, too, so Meng's detention is basically the same thing as a conviction. He could even face the death penalty.