French police have opened an investigation into the reported disappearance last week of Meng Hongwei, the Chinese head of the international police organization Interpol, a source close to the inquiry said.
Meng was last seen leaving for China from Interpol’s headquarters in Lyon, southeast France, in late September, the source said. His wife reported him missing.
“He did not disappear in France,” the source told AFP.
Europe reported that he left the country on September 29.
Interpol, which groups 192 countries and which is usually focused on finding people who are missing or wanted, said it was aware of reports about Meng’s “alleged disappearance”.
“This is a matter for the relevant authorities in both France and China,” the agency said in a statement.
A person familiar with the investigation into the disappearance said the initial working assumption of Western investigators was that Meng had antagonized Chinese authorities in some way and had been detained as a result.
Presidents of Interpol are seconded from their national administrations and remain in their home post while representing the international policing body.
Meng is listed on the website of China’s Ministry of Public Security as a vice-minister, but lost his seat on its key Communist Party Committee in April, the South China Morning Post reported.
Reuters was not immediately able to reach China’s Ministry of Public Security for comment.
Meng has almost 40 years’ experience in criminal justice and policing, and has overseen matters related to legal institutions, narcotics control and counter-terrorism, according to Interpol’s website.
Interpol staff can carry special passports to help speed deployment in emergency situations but that would not have given Meng any specific rights or immunity in his home country.
When Meng was named Interpol’s president in November 2016, human rights groups expressed concern that Beijing might try to leverage his position to pursue dissidents abroad. Beijing has in the past pressed countries to arrest and deport to China citizens it accuses of crimes, from corruption to terrorism, according to Reuters.
At the time, Amnesty International called Meng’s appointment “at odds with Interpol’s mandate to work in the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
Diplomats say the role of Interpol president is largely ceremonial, with day-to-day work carried out by its secretary general, Juergen Stock, and his staff.
Police sources said Meng’s wife and children remained in Lyon.
Meng’s term is scheduled to run until 2020.