The Chinese government has remained tight-lipped on the disappearance of International Criminal Political Investigation (Interpol) Chief Meng Hongwei on a trip to China.
His disappearance was made public on Friday, when French authorities said they were opening an investigation to find out what happened to Meng, a Chinese national who served a lengthy term as the vice minister for public security.
According to a report by the South China Morning Post newspaper, Meng was taken in for questioning by Chinese authorities. The paper, which based its reporting on an unnamed source, said the reason for Meng’s questioning was unknown.
Interpol said in a tweet that the case was “a matter for the relevant authorities in both France and China”.
— INTERPOL (@INTERPOL_HQ) October 5, 2018
Meng’s disappearance was originally reported by his wife, who told French police in the city of Lyon she had not heard from him since he travelled to China.
Meng was last seen in Lyon, Interpol’s home base, late September.
Al Jazeera’s Adrian Brow, reporting from Beijing, said China’s silence is a “reflection of how sensitive this case is”.
“So far China has said absolutely nothing about the disappearance of Meng Hongwei. State-controlled media is so far not reporting this story either and any mention of his name on social media is being deleted,” he said.
“That is I think a reflection of how sensitive this case is.”
According to Interpol’s website, Meng has nearly 40 years of experience in criminal justice and policing, and has overseen matters related to legal institutions, narcotics control and counterterrorism.
Following the appointment, critics suggested that Meng’s appointment gave Beijing a chance to enlist more international help in tracking down alleged economic criminals, including corrupt officials, targeted by President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign.
But Interpol has, in the past, denied this, saying its head does not intervene in day-to-day operations, which are handled by secretary-general Juergen Stock who is German.
Operation Fox Hunt
Al Jazeera’s Brown added that Meng was vice minister of the Public Security Bureau prior to his Interpol appointment and that made him a very powerful man.
“For some context, [Meng’s] boss is a man who was jailed for corruption. Zhou Yongkang was the J Edgar Hoover of Chinese politics, he was the security tzar of China,” he said.
“Then, in 2016, another vice minister of public security was jailed for corruption, so there is a pattern emerging. It is quite possible that Meng found himself on the wrong side of the political divide in China, at a time when President Xi Jinping is intensifying his crackdown on corruption.”
The Chinese clampdown on corruption, known as Operation Fox Hunt, has led to claims in some countries that Chinese law enforcement agents have been operating covertly on their soil without the approval or consent of local authorities.
Some critics also view the campaign as a way for President Xi to purge the party of political foes. Since it began, several top officials have been detained and charged with crimes including “severe disciplinary violations”, a phrase that usually refers to corruption.