Meng Hongwei: Former Interpol chief ‘admits’ to taking more than $2m in bribes, claims China

Chris Stevenson

The former head of Interpol who disappeared on his way from France to China has admitted to accepting more than $2m (£1.58m) in bribes, according to a Chinese court.

Officials in the northeast port city of Tianjin said Mr Meng had abused his positions, including as a vice minister of public security and maritime police chief, to take bribes in exchange for currying favour.

Mr Meng was taken into custody having travelled from France in September, with Interpol unaware of his whereabouts and being forced into requesting information from Beijing.

Mr Meng's wife Grace told reporters in Lyon – where Interpol is based – that she had not heard from her husband since 25 September. Ms Meng said he used his Interpol phone to send her an emoji image of a knife that day, four minutes after he sent a message saying "Wait for my call".

Of the knife image, she said: "I think he means he is in danger."

Chinese authorities admitted they were holding Mr Meng in a statement in early October and Beijing's ministry of public security said he was being investigated. Ms Meng has accused Chinese authorities of making a "false case" against her husband.

The No 1 Intermediate Court said Mr Meng read a statement containing the confession at a hearing, with prosecutors having accused him of taking bribes totalling 14.5m yuan.

"Meng Hongwei made final remarks, and admitted guilt and expressed remorse to the court," the People's Daily said, with offences said to date back to 2005.

Shown on television wearing a plain brown windbreaker and flanked by two bailiffs, Mr Meng appeared older and greyer than during his time as one of the nation’s top law enforcement officers. He has already been fired from his positions and kicked out of the Communist Party.

Mr Meng became Interpol president in late 2016 as China sought to secure leadership posts in international organisations. He resigned in October 2018 after his detention was revealed.

The court said it would hand down its sentence at a later date. It is not clear who is acting as legal representation for Mr Meng.

Confessions by officials, often televised, have become a staple under China's president, Xi Jinping. Confessions are an integral part of the Chinese legal system, which consistently has a conviction rate higher than 99 per cent despite claims by Beijing that it is working to prevent wrongful convictions.

Admissions of guilt and expressions of remorse can lead to lighter sentences, although life sentences have frequently been handed out to officials as part of a crackdown on corruption by Mr Xi. He has pledged to target both "tigers" and "flies" – meaning both top-level officials and lower bureaucrats.

The campaign has led to thousands of convictions, although critics have suggested it is a way for Beijing to keep on top of dissent or perceived lack of loyalty. Officials have denied this. There is speculation that Mr Meng may have fallen out of political favour with Mr Xi.

Human rights groups have accused Beijing of forcing televised confessions with scripted remarks, with five of the 37 people described in a 2018 report by the Safeguard Defenders group having publicly retracted their confessions. China denies such accusations.

AP contributed to this report