Former Interpol chief Meng Hongwei, center, during his trial last year at a court in Tianjin in northern China. Photo: AFP

When Interpol President Meng Hongwei disappeared during a visit to China in the fall of 2018, the mystery created a media frenzy.

On Tuesday, the 66-year-old former Vice-Minister of Public Security was sentenced to more than 13 years in prison for bribery after being held in custody for the past 24 months.

In June, he pleaded guilty to accepting US$2.1 million in bribes using his status to “seek improper benefit.” Seven months later, a court statement revealed that he had “truthfully confessed to all the criminal facts” and would not appeal the decision.

“The court rules that Meng has committed bribe-taking offenses and should be punished by law,” the Supreme Court of China said in a statement this week.

“The court has made the judgment after taking into consideration that [he] has proactively turned in most information about the charges that the authorities were not able to obtain, and that he has admitted to the charges and that some of the bribes could not be retrieved.”

Communist Party

Still, the case has highlighted concerns about China’s judicial system after Meng, who later resigned at Interpol, joined a growing number of high-profile Communist Party cadres caught in President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign.

Two years ago, China’s National Supervisory Commission was handed draconian powers to investigate and arrest senior business figures and public servants with little or no transparency.

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“The understanding and practice are that once [it] launches an investigation, legal counsel will not be allowed,” Qin Qianhong, a professor of law at Wuhan University, told the South China Morning Post, adding that legal access had been denied to people once they had been detained.

“This means that suspects are not only denied access to a lawyer during the liuzhi [early] phase but throughout the whole operational process where the supervisory commission is involved,” Qin added.

So, while the case might be over, questions remain after Meng was arrested at Beijing’s international airport in October 2018. At the time, he had not been seen by his wife Grace since September 25 when he left Lyon, home to Interpol, the international crime-fighting agency.

Speaking to the media at a hotel in the ancient city of France’s Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region, she confirmed that the last contact with her husband came via a WhatsApp text message with a “knife emoji” and the instructions: “Wait for my call.”

Political asylum

When it became clear to Grace that he had been apprehended, she applied for political asylum in France. Last year, her request was granted amid fears that her two children would be kidnapped if they returned to China.

“Although I can’t see my husband, we are always connected by [our] hearts,” she said, adding that the arrest was politically motivated.

Past associations might have proved to be Meng’s downfall.

He came through the ranks of China’s security apparatus under Zhou Yongkang, a leading rival to Xi, who became the highest-ranking official to be entangled in corruption charges. He was later jailed for life in 2014 after being accused of conspiring to seize state power.

Now, Meng has joined him.

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