The former head of Interpol, Meng Hongwei, is being held for investigation for corruption at a secret location "on the outskirts of Beijing" after the international police body accepted his resignation "with immediate effect" on Sunday, RFA has learned.
Meng resigned as President of Interpol on Sunday, Interpol said in a brief statement on its website, but gave no reason for the resignation, nor did it provide details of his status or whereabouts. Meng had been elected to lead the international police agency until 2020.
Meng's resignation came after he was reported missing by his wife last Friday, after he returned to China on a trip last week.
The official website of China's Ministry of Public Security said on Monday that Meng is being investigated for "accepting bribes and suspected violation of laws."
The ruling Chinese Communist Party committee at the ministry found that Meng's investigation was "completely the result of him willfully taking his own path and his own doing," and that it would "resolutely uphold and resolutely support" the investigation.
It said the probe by President Xi Jinping's newly established State Supervisory Commission was "very timely, completely correct, very wise, and fully expresses the clear cut attitude and resolute determination of the party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core to administer the party with strict discipline and to carry on the anti-corruption fight to the end."
The meeting called for the "profound understanding" of the damage to the party and to Chinese law enforcement caused by "Meng Hongwei's acceptance of bribes and violation of laws," the report said.
But it also called on high-ranking police officers to "always maintain the political character of absolute loyalty ... to the party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at the core," indicating a likely political motive behind Meng's disappearance.
A person familiar with the matter told RFA on Monday that Meng is currently under house arrest in a suburb of Beijing, and that many of his subordinates have also been implicated in the case.
Meng's detention is similar to that of other senior officials under house arrest, the person said, adding that Meng is being guarded by specially assigned personnel, and that the probe is shrouded in secrecy.
His wife Grace Meng made a public appeal to rescue her husband on Sunday, showing a knife emoji he had sent her to warn that he was in danger, while the acceptance of his resignation by Interpol drew criticism from human rights activists, who hit out at international acceptance of China's use of forced "disappearances."
"How can you accept a resignation letter from a man who has disappeared?" rights activist Peter Dahlin, who has himself been detained in China, said via Twitter. "Who has been placed into a system that is known to use torture? When he is being kept incommunicado (and in solitary confinement). What is wrong with you @INTERPOL_HQ?"
And Sophie Richardson, China director for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said the organization itself should be held to account for its handling of the crisis.
"Sorry, @INTERPOL_HQ, but *you* aren’t getting off so easily here," Richardson tweeted. "If you really actually concerned about proper law enforcement why are you talking only about #China Meng resignation and *not* about ensuring due process for him?"
Meanwhile, a second person familiar with the situation said there was strong disagreement about the move to detain Meng in the highest echelons of the Chinese leadership.
"The Chinese Communist Party ... basically disappeared a high-ranking official in an international organization, once more letting a scandal play out before the eyes of the world," the person said, adding that the political motivation for going after Meng remains unclear.
"I think it's too far-fetched to say that it's because of his connection to [jailed former security czar] Zhou Yongkang, because there are a number of high-ranking officials like that who have been promoted by [President] Xi Jinping," they said.
Reports suggest that Meng was appointed vice-minister for public security by Zhou, who rose to power at the head of China feared "stability maintenance" system, was jailed for life by the Tianjin No. 1 Intermediate People's Court in June 2015, after being found guilty of bribe-taking, abuse of power, and disclosure of state secrets in a secret trial.
Zhou's sentence came rumors of a political coup attempt to topple Xi by him and jailed former Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai. China's securities regulator Liu Shiyu later told top finance officials during the 19th Party Congress in 2017 that senior figures had "conspired openly to usurp party leadership."
Earlier that year, Xi had accused five disgraced party officials, including Zhou and Bo, of involvement in "political conspiracies."
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.