Police chiefs from around the world gathered in Dubai on Sunday for Interpol’s general assembly to select a new president after the agency’s former leader was detained in China.
Meng Hongwei, China’s vice minister of public security who also leads Interpol went missing while on a trip to China in September. Later, it was discovered that he had been detained as part of a sweeping purge against allegedly corrupt or disloyal officials under President Xi Jinping’s authoritarian administration.
The red notices are sent out by Interpol to all member countries that identify a person wanted for arrest by another country. Interpol says there are currently 57,289 active red notices around the world.
The role of the Interpol is to function as a clearinghouse for national police services that want to hunt down suspects outside their borders. However, it has faced criticism that governments have abused the “red notice” system to go after political enemies and dissidents, despite its charter explicitly proclaiming that it is a neutral body and that it prohibits the use of police notices for political reasons.
Interpol introduced new measures 2 years ago, aimed at strengthening the legal framework around the red notice system. As part of the changes, an international team of lawyers and experts first check a notice’s compliance with Interpol rules and regulations before it goes out. Interpol also introduced an appeals body for those targeted with red notices.
The authorities in China revealed that Meng is being lawfully investigated because he is believed to have taken bribes and committed other crimes. China’s beleaguered rights activists point out that as someone with a seat atop the country’s powerful public security apparatus, Meng helped build the opaque system of largely unchecked power wielded by the ruling Communist Party to which he’s now fallen victim.
Meng’s wife has told The Associated Press from France that the bribery accusation he faces is just an excuse to give him a longer detention and that he is being persecuted for political reasons.
As more than 1,000 delegates from 192 member-states began filling the main hall for the annual event, Interpol Secretary-General Jurgen Stock explained to reporters that the agency’s rules did not allow for Meng to continue acting as president. Meng had been serving as president since November 2016, and his term was due to end in 2020.
He said Interpol received Meng’s resignation letter from China on Oct. 7 and that Interpol was notified by Chinese authorities that Meng is no longer a delegate to Interpol.
“It sounds a little technical but again that automatically leads to the fact, according to our rules, that he is not the president anymore,” Stock said. “We had to take the measures to ensure the functioning of the organization.”
Interpol allegedly accepted an unsigned resignation letter without any resistance and without evidence of his consent.
In Meng’s place on Sunday, senior vice president of Interpol’s executive committee, Kim Jong Yang of South Korea who previously took on the role as acting president helped open the ceremony for the general assembly meeting.
Just over a week ago, Stock told reporters in France, the headquarters of Interpol that there was no reason for him to suspect that anything about Meng’s resignation “was forced or wrong.”
He said he “encouraged” Chinese authorities to provide information about Meng’s location and legal status but can do no more because the role of Interpol is “not to govern over member states.”