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Meng Hongwei (R), Chinese Vice Public Security Minister, shakes hands with Nguyen Quang Dam, the commandant of the Vietnam Coast Guard, in Beijing, China, August 26, 2016. Photo by Reuters

Wife says Interpol officer sent knife image as danger signal

LYON, France — The missing president of the police agency Interpol sent his wife an image of a knife immediately before he disappeared in China, which she believes was his way of saying that he was in danger.

Grace Meng detailed the chilling final exchange of messages with her husband, Meng Hongwei, to reporters Sunday in the French city of Lyon, where Interpol is based.

Apparently confirming her fears for his safety: China announced less than an hour after she spoke that Meng was under investigation on suspicion of unspecified legal violations, making the vice minister for public security and Interpol chief the latest high-profile official to be swept up in a government crackdown.

Interpol then announced that Meng had resigned as president, effective immediately. It did not say why, or provide details about Meng’s whereabouts or condition.

Meng’s unexplained disappearance in China, which had prompted the French government and Interpol to make their concerns known publicly, threatened to tarnish Beijing’s image as a rising Asian power. The one-sentence announcement about his being the focus of an investigation, issued when it was nearly midnight in China, said only that Meng was in the custody of party investigators.

The disciplinary organ of China’s ruling Communist Party said in a brief statement on its website, Meng was “suspected of violating the law and is currently under the monitoring and investigation” of China’s new anti-corruption body, the National Supervision Commission.

The statement was the first official word on the 64-year-old Meng’s fate. In Lyon, meanwhile, his wife was speaking for the first time about his disappearance.

She said she hadn’t heard from her husband since Sept. 25. Using his Interpol telephone, he sent her the knife image 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 message.

“This is the last, last message from my husband,” she said. “After that I have no call and he disappeared.”

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

She wouldn’t speculate on her husband’s current whereabouts. She said he regularly traveled back and forth between Lyon and China for his job. He had been on a three-country tour, to Norway, Sweden and Serbia, for Interpol before his latest trip back to China, she said.

Before he shared the knife image, she said she had 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 were in daily contact during his trip before he went missing in China.

Asked if she believed that he has been arrested, Grace Meng said: “In China, what happened, I’m not sure.”

he would not allow reporters to show her face, saying she feared for her own safety and the safety of her children. Her voice trembled with emotion as she read a prepared statement.

“From now on, I have gone from sorrow and fear to the pursuit of truth, justice and responsibility toward history,” she said. “For the husband whom I deeply love, for my young children, for the people of my motherland, for all the wives and children’s husbands and fathers to no longer disappear.”

The appeal by Meng’s wife for justice and fairness echoed pleas from the families of scores of people who fell afoul of the Chinese Communist Party under President Xi Jinping’s rule. Some of them might have been pursued by Chinese authorities under Meng’s watch.

Such targets, who have been subject to arbitrary detention and made unexplained disappearances, include pro-democracy activists, human rights lawyers, officials accused of graft or political disloyalty and the estimated one million ethnic minority Muslims who have vanished into internment camps in the country’s far west.

Xi, China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, has overseen a harsh crackdown on civil society that is aimed at squelching dissent and activism among lawyers and rights advocates.

He has also used a popular and wide-ranging anti-corruption campaign to boost supervision of the party and as a powerful weapon with which to purge his political opponents.

Meng is China’s vice minister of public security as well as president of the International Criminal Police Organization. The Lyon-based international police agency said Saturday it had used law enforcement channels to inquire with China about Meng’s status.

Wong reported from Beijing.

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