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Wife of ex-Interpol president fears for her life with her husband detained in China

Grace Meng spoke to journalists at a press conference on Sunday. Photo: Getty Images

The wife of Interpol's former chief has said she fears for her life and that of her twin boys after her husband was detained by Chinese officials, in the latest case of a forced disappearance in Beijing.

In an exclusive interview with CNN in Lyon, France, Grace Meng said that she had received a threatening phone call from a stranger after her husband vanished. She said that the stranger told her "two teams" were coming to target her.

Grace Meng was moved to tears as she spoke of her sons, both 7 years old, saying that she had not told them what happened to their father, Meng Hongwei, and that she had kept them away from the television to shield them from the news.

"Maybe they can feel something happened," she said. When they notice her crying, Grace Meng says, she tells them she has a cold.

"I don't want to break their hearts," Meng said. "I'm very -- you know my heart, you know my emotion. They (Chinese authorities) like things under the table, in the dark room," Meng said.

As she spoke to CNN, keeping her face hidden throughout the interview, her mobile phone rang three times. She said that the Chinese consulate had been calling incessantly, but that she refused to meet them alone and would only do so with the media and a lawyer present. The Chinese consulate in Paris could not be immediately contacted.

In another exclusive interview with the Associated Press, Grace Meng denied bribery allegations against Meng Hongwei and said that speaking out about his disappearance was placing her "in great danger".

Grace Meng defended her husband as an innocent man and criticized the Chinese government for the disappearances and lack of transparency over the detentions.

Grace Meng is now under French police protection.

A French judicial official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed to the Associated Press that police are investigating the threat against Grace Meng, but said that the probe has yet to determine whether there were indeed Chinese teams sent to Lyon.

Meng Hongwei - who is also China's vice minister of public security - disappeared while on a trip home to China late last month.

Chinese authorities said on Monday that Meng Hongwei was being investigated for taking bribes and other crimes that were a result of his "willfulness".

Hours earlier, Interpol said that Meng had resigned as the international police agency's president. It was not clear whether he did so of his own free will.

Chinese authorities have not given details of specific allegations, but the country's top law enforcement official, Zhao Kezhi, was quoted as saying Meng "insisted on taking the wrong path and had only himself to blame."

Grace Meng suggested that the bribery accusation is just an excuse for "making him disappear for so long".

"As his wife, I think he's simply incapable of this," she said. She said that she would be willing to make their bank accounts public.

She said that she spoke out in hopes that doing so might help other families in similar circumstances.

New form of custody

Meng Hongwei seems to have been detained under a new form of custody called "liuzhi".

Liuzhi, or "retention in custody", is used by the National Supervisory Commission (NSC), China's new super-agency charged with investigating corruption throughout the government. Detainees can be denied access to legal counsel or families for as long as six months under liuzhi.

It is meant to be an improvement on the previous "shuanggui" system, a disciplinary process within the ruling Chinese Communist party. Under "liuzhi", family members are supposed to be notified within 24 hours if a relative has been taken into custody.

Rights advocates say that there are few indications "liuzhi" will be much better than its forerunner.

"Liuzhi is a very new system, but we can speculate pretty clearly [about] the kind of treatment people are subjected to," said Michael Caster of Safeguard Defenders, a human rights NGO in Asia. "Prolonged sleep deprivation, forced malnourishment, stress positions, beatings, psychological abuse, threats to family members certainly, oftentimes leading to forced confessions."

Meng Hongwei's case is the most high-profile yet for the NSC, which was created in March to expand China's anti-corruption drive to people and entities outside the Communist Party, including government ministries, state-owned companies and people working in the public sector.

Speculation for the reasons behind Meng Hongwei's downfall ranges from his access to sensitive information after a long career at the public security ministry to his tenure at Interpol, when the organization revoked an international alert for Dolkun Isa, the president of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, which is critical of China's treatment of ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang.

During Xi's six-year presidency, more than 1 million officials are estimated to have been punished in a widespread crackdown on corruption, many of them mysteriously disappearing for days as Chinese officials question them.


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