Vanished Interpol boss Meng Hongwei under investigation for suspected bribery, China says

Former Interpol chief Meng Hongwei is under investigation for suspected bribery, China's Ministry of Public Security has said in a statement on its website.

Interpol chief Meng Hongwei 

Interpol chief Meng Hongwei 

On Sunday, Interpol, the France-based global police coordination body, said that Mr Meng had resigned as its president.

Earlier on Sunday, China had said it was investigating Mr Meng, who is also a Vice Minister for Public Security in China, for suspected violations of the law.

"The investigation against Meng Hongwei's taking and giving bribes and suspected violations of law is very timely, absolutely correct and rather wise," the ministry said in a statement following an internal meeting.

Mr Meng's unexplained disappearance in China late last month, which had prompted the French Government and Interpol to make their concerns known publicly, has threatened to tarnish Beijing's image.

Mr Meng's wife Grace, who remains in France, has been placed under police protection after receiving threats.

She told reporters in Lyon that she had not heard from her husband since September 25.

Ms Meng said he used his Interpol phone to send her an emoji image of a knife that day, four minutes after he sent a message saying: "Wait for my call."

She said the call never came and she does not know what happened to him.

Of the knife image, she said: "I think he means he is in danger."

She said he was in China when he sent the image.

"This is the last, last message from my husband," she said.

"After that I have no call and he disappeared."

PHOTO: Grace Meng did not want her face shown at the press conference. (AP: John Leicester)

PHOTO: Grace Meng did not want her face shown at the press conference. (AP: John Leicester)

Wife makes plea for husband's safety

Ms Meng detailed the last messages she exchanged with her husband to reporters as part of an impassioned plea to help bring her missing husband to safety.

Not uncommon to vanish in China

The spectre of the world's top cop disappearing incommunicado seems baffling abroad, but it doesn't in China, writes Bill Birtles.

"I have gone from sorrow and fear to the pursuit of truth, justice and responsibility toward history," she said, her voice trembling with emotion.

"For the husband whom I deeply love, for my young children, for the people of my motherland, for all the wives and children, so that their husbands and fathers will no longer disappear."

Ms Meng would not allow reporters to show her face, saying she feared for her own safety and the safety of her children.

She was accompanied to the hotel where she held her media conference by two French police officers who were assigned to look after her.

Before her husband shared the knife image, she sent him a photo of two animal figurines, one of a bear and another of a horse, meant to represent their two children.

One of them loves horses, she said, and the other "looks like the bear".

She said they had been in daily contact during his trip before he went missing in China.

In his role as a senior public security official in China, Mr Meng regularly traveled between Beijing and Lyon, France, where Interpol is based.

He had been on a three-country tour to Norway, Sweden and Serbia for Interpol before his latest trip back to China, Ms Meng said.

INTERPOL gathers international experts to counter threat of fraudulent documents

LYON, France – International experts from the law enforcement community, international organizations and the private sector have met at INTERPOL's General Secretariat headquarters to review and shape best practices against the threat of document counterfeiting.

11.png

Some 140 participants from nearly 50 INTERPOL member countries, five international organizations (UNODC, Frontex, ICAO, Europol and the OSCE) and 17 private companies attended the three-day (17 – 19 October) Conference on Fraudulent Documents to exchange ideas, review emerging trends and shape best practices against document counterfeiting.

The meeting also provided an operational framework for multidisciplinary cooperation between law enforcement, academia and public and private partners.

Amongst keynote speakers at the meeting, Rolf Hofer of the Forensic Science Institute in Zurich, Switzerland, underlined the fundamental role of training and technical capacity building: “Access to expert knowledge from academia, the private sector and international organizations is an essential prerequisite to tackling document fraud.”

Samiah Ibrahim, a senior Canadian forensic document examiner said a global response was necessary to address the threat of fraudulent documents: “As an international community we must work together, pool our resources, and share information so that crime trends do not move from country to country, and so that we see a decrease in crimes enabled by fraudulent documents as their use becomes more and more limited by our collective work.”

With fraudulent documents an enabler of crime, the use of fraudulent documents for human smuggling and human trafficking was highlighted during the conference.

“The fraudulent use of identity and travel documents threatens the security of countries and their citizens, economies, and global commerce, facilitating a wide range of crimes and terrorism. Combining the private sector’s technological knowledge and law enforcement’s investigative experience is the only way we can prevent document fraud and bring criminals to justice,” said Jose De Gracia, Assistant Director with INTERPOL’s Criminal Networks unit.  

INTERPOL provides its 192 member countries with technical databases, online reference tools, a forensic laboratory and tailored training programmes against fraudulent documents. Its training courses and seminars are often carried out in partnership with other organizations, encouraging innovation and turning training into operational practice.

In this respect, INTERPOL has designed its own e-learning module on Security Document Examination, funded by the US Department of State and available in INTERPOL’s four official languages (Arabic, English, French and Spanish) to all its member countries.

As the International Central Office for the Suppression of Counterfeit Currency, INTERPOL has also developed Project S-Print to mitigate the risk posed by the market in second-hand intaglio presses.

The project includes more than 25 businesses in security printing and associated industries. Its goal is to prevent organized criminal networks from sourcing equipment and materials that could be misused for counterfeiting.

South America focus of INTERPOL operation to track down international fugitives

INFRA-HYDRA-Nguyen_sqligallerysliderImage.jpg

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Hundreds of international fugitives wanted for serious offences including murder, rape, child sexual abuse, kidnapping and drug trafficking who are believed to be hiding in South America are the focus of an INTERPOL operation which is now appealing for the public’s assistance.

Involving 34 countries, and targeting 203 fugitives, Operation Infra-SA (International Fugitive Round-Up and Arrest – South America) was launched by INTERPOL from its Regional Bureau in Buenos Aires on 14 March and has already led to the arrest or location of 21 individuals.

Co-ordinated by INTERPOL’s Fugitive Investigative Support (FIS) unit, the initial phase of the operation brought together investigators from the participating countries to directly share information on suspects who are believed to have fled to South America, many of whom have been on the run from justice for years.

Members of the public are now being asked to help provide information which can help police locate and arrest these internationally-wanted fugitives, with 20 Infra-SA targets specifically highlighted as part of the appeal to identify their whereabouts.

“Locating and arresting criminals is at the heart of INTERPOL’s work and previous Infra operations has shown the valuable role that the public can play in supporting the police take dangerous criminals off the streets,” said INTERPOL’s Executive Director of Police Services Jean-Michel Louboutin.

“What is also clear from this operation is that no matter how long it takes, or where these criminals attempt to hide, law enforcement is committed to finding them and bringing them to justice,” added Mr Louboutin.

Among the key arrests already made through Infra-SA is that of Patrick Van Den Berg, wanted in connection with the murder of his wife and six-month-old baby in Bolivia in 2008, and also suspected of killing a woman in Chile. The 35-year-old Dutch national was taken into custody by police in Peru on 29 March and now awaits extradition.

 Other results since the launch of Operation Infra-SA include the arrest in Uruguay of Francisco Sebastian Silva Fernandez, wanted by Argentina for armed robbery, Clara and Caridad Guilarte, wanted by the US for fraud and money laundering arrested in Colombia where police also took into custody Jose Raul Marquez Restrepo wanted by Peru in connection with drug offences.

 A significant asset in Operation Infra-SA is the newly established Command and Co-ordination Centre (CCC) at INTERPOL’s Buenos Aires Regional Bureau, providing 24/7 police support capacity.

“It is essential that the National Central Bureaus and frontline police officers across the region get the information they need, when they need it, not only for operations such as Infra-SA, but for every day law enforcement work, and this is what the Regional Bureau provides on a 24-hour basis,“ said Rafael Pena, Acting Head of the Buenos Aires Regional Bureau.

“The physical and technical support provided by the Regional Bureau is an important factor in the ongoing successes of Operation Infra-SA and we are now calling on the public to make sure that we all see even better results.”

Information on the whereabouts of the targets of Operation Infra-SA or any internationally-wanted persons can be sent via email to INTERPOL’s fugitive unit.

Supported by US and Canadian authorities, the participating countries in Infra-SA are: Albania, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Romania, Russia, Spain, Ukraine, United States, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Operation Infra-SA builds on the success of INTERPOL’s Operation Infra-Red conducted in May 2010, a global operation targeting 450 fugitives worldwide and which resulted in the arrest and/or location of more than 170 individual wanted for a range of serious crimes.

ADDRESS CHINA'S 'RED NOTICE' ABUSES — INTERPOL

Red notices are a form of worldwide arrest warrant that are circulated by Interpol to member countries, listing persons who are wanted for extradition.

5db80af6-fb1f-11e5-b0dd-7b74aaaf255c_1280x720.jpg

The election of Chinese Vice Public Security Minister Meng Hongwei as Interpol's president a year ago has alarmed rights advocates who cite abuses and opacity within China's legal system.

The Uighurs are Turkish speaking Muslims from China's western region of Xinjiang and Beijing routinely accuses exiled Uighur activists of supporting terrorist activities in Xinjiang.

Dolkun Isa, who campaigns from Germany on behalf of the ethnic Uyghur community in Xinjiang, has been subjected to a red notice for over a decade but has been unable to access or remove it, interfering with his worldwide travel.

New York-based Human Rights Watch claimed that numerous red notices requested by China were "politically motivated".

Xi said China's stability was just as much its contribution to the world as its economic development, and that it firmly supported the global struggle against terrorism.

"And with China's vice-minister of public security - a notoriously abusive agency - as president, Interpol's credibility is on the line", she said.

Human Rights Watch also raised concerns about the ability of Meng, who assumed Interpol's presidency in November 2016, to maintain Interpol's neutrality, and to respect and protect human rights as stipulated in the organization's constitution.

China's Public Security Minister, Guo Shengkun, told the assembly that China hoped to use worldwide police cooperation to strengthen its defense against the threat of militants returning from overseas to join groups like the East Turkistan Islamic Movement. "They are responsible for protecting public safety and for protecting the civil liberties - including privacy rights - of citizens", a U.S. Embassy statement quoted him as saying.

The MPS said that law enforcement and security cooperation between China and Interpol has been deepened, and that China has called for intensified efforts on major issues including promoting the use of the Interpol database.

In recent months, Guo has become a widely followed social media presence by serving up sensational, if mostly unverifiable, tales of corruption and scandal within the Communist Party's innermost sanctum, including among Xi's closest allies.

IS CHINA USING INTERPOL TO TRY TO BRING BACK POLITICAL DISSIDENTS FROM THE U.S.?

The extent to which Washington is cooperating with Beijing remains unclear.

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks during the 86th Interpol General Assembly at the Beijing National Convention Center on September 26th, 2017, in Beijing, China. (Photo: Lintao Zhang-Pool/Getty Images)

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks during the 86th Interpol General Assembly at the Beijing National Convention Center on September 26th, 2017, in Beijing, China.(Photo: Lintao Zhang-Pool/Getty Images)

China's controversial anti-corruption campaign continues onward—not just at home, but also in the United States and around the globe.

Beijing's efforts to return escaped criminals from abroad is ostensibly aimed at rooting out the corruption hindering the nation's growth and roiling its citizens. But rights activists advise international governments against cooperating with Chinese law enforcement, saying China's anti-graft campaign is simply a thinly veiled bid to bring back home political dissidents escaping persecution.

Chinese President Xi Jinping opened the International Police Organization (Interpol) general assembly in Beijing on Tuesday to hundreds of participants from 156 countries, including the U.S. Also on Tuesday, China's state-run Xinhua News Agency reported that Interpol, the global police cooperation agency, is collaborating with Chinese authorities in over 3,000 investigations around the world each year. Last year, China issued 612 "red notices"—alerts seeking the extradition of accused criminals abroad—leading to 17 extraditions.

Just one day before Xi's speech, international advocacy group Human Rights Watch issued a statement calling on Interpol to address what it charges is China's abuse of the red notice system. HRW's statement expressed concerns about Interpol's respect for human rights, especially with Chinese Vice Minister for Public Security Meng Hongwei now helming the organization.

"China has already shown a propensity for using Interpol to its own ends, sometimes in violation of Interpol's principles and practices," HRW's China director, Sophie Richardson, tells Pacific Standard. "Now that China has a top slot in the organization, it is imperative that Interpol address past—and prevent future—abuses."

HRW’s statement on Monday pointed to numerous occasions in which Beijing has issued red notices for high-profile political dissidents challenging its rule. Over a decade ago, China issued a red notice against Dolkun Isa, a Germany-based advocate for the rights of China's beleaguered ethnic Uyghurs. In the U.S., China has issued a red notice against Wang Zaigang, who has advocated for democracy in the People's Republic. Authorities in their current countries of residence have not acted on the red notices in either case, but traveling abroad with a red notice comes with great uncertainty.

"CHINA HAS ALREADY SHOWN A PROPENSITY FOR USING INTERPOL TO ITS OWN ENDS, SOMETIMES IN VIOLATION OF INTERPOL'S PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICES."

Neither Interpol nor the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., responded to requests for comment.

China's use of Interpol red notices should concern all Americans—not just Chinese nationals escaping their homeland's authorities—Richardson argues. "Nobody should be subjected to the kinds of ill treatment Chinese police are know to mete out, inside or outside China," she says. "That the scope of that force's reach is growing is an ominous sign for all of us."

Rights advocates like Richardson claim Beijing is using its red cards to return escaped critics; Meng, meanwhile, called for international collaboration at the Interpol general assembly on Tuesday.

"Cooperation is embedded in the genes of the organization, just as neutrality is its lifeline," Meng said. "We must hold dear the cooperative and neutral spirit in the same way as we cherish our lives."

In recent years, Beijing has demanded greater cooperation from American enforcement officials in its attempts to repatriate wanted Chinese nationals living in the U.S. There is no extradition treaty between the two countries, so the degree to which Washington cooperates shifts with the constant flux of Sino-U.S. relations.

It remains unclear to what extent the Trump administration is presently cooperating or will cooperate with the bid. What is clear is that the Trump administration has cooperated at least once in the past. In June, Washington extradited a Chinese national surnamed Zhu, wanted for "violation of personal rights," according to a Chinese Public Security Ministry press release reported by Reuters. Zhu had overstayed his visa in the U.S.

Chinese Vice Minister for Public Security Meng Hongwei gives an address at the opening of the Interpol World Congress in Singapore on July 4th, 2017 .(Photo: Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images)

Chinese Vice Minister for Public Security Meng Hongwei gives an address at the opening of the Interpol World Congress in Singapore on July 4th, 2017.(Photo: Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images)

In April, China issued a red notice against Chinese billionaire and political dissident Guo Wengui, Reuters reported. Guo remains in New York.

The Trump administration is not the first to cooperate with Chinese authorities on law enforcement. As early as September of 2015, the administration of President Barack Obama returned Yang Jinjun, a Chinese national wanted for charges of bribery, as a result of bilateral talks with China.

Though HRW's Richardson says it's unclear to what extent the U.S. is cooperating with Interpolshe is nonetheless "concerned that U.S. law enforcement may not be aware of intimidation in the U.S. by Chinese officials of people from China, and that the U.S. may not be fully taking into account the well-founded fears returnees may have of torture or ill-treatment."

Asked to clarify the degree to which the Trump administration is cooperating with Chinese authorities, Department of State staff directed Pacific Standard to the Department of Justice, which did not respond to multiple email requests for comment.

While the Trump administration’s exact role in China's hunt for what it calls criminals remains unknown, Beijing's most wanted individuals appear, oddly enough, to be voluntarily returning to China from the U.S.

Xu Xuewei, a technology entrepreneur from the eastern province of Jiangsu, went back to China from the U.S. to turn himself in to authorities, Reuters reported Sunday. So too did driving school headmaster Liu Changkai earlier this month. The reasons for their return to China were not immediately evident. Xu returned "under the influence of policy and legal deterrence," Reuters reported, and Liu cited loneliness as the reason for his return.

The role—if any—that the U.S. played in the events that led to Xu and Liu's return was not mentioned. Apparently Liu's loneliness in the U.S. was such that even a Chinese prison seemed more appealing.