France has opened an investigation into the disappearance of Meng Hongwei, the Chinese head of the international police agency Interpol.
His family have not heard from him since he left Interpol HQ in the French city of Lyon for a trip back to China a week ago, police sources say.
“He did not disappear in France,” a source close to the inquiry told AFP.
The South China Morning Post quoted a source as saying Mr Meng, 64, was “taken away” for questioning in China.
The Hong Kong-based newspaper added that it was not clear why he was being investigated by “discipline authorities” or where he was being held.
Chinese officials have so far made no public comments on the issue.
Mr Meng is a senior Communist Party official in China.
It was opened after Mr Meng’s wife went to police to report her husband missing.
She said she has not heard from him since his departure on 29 September.
Police sources said their investigation was into what is termed in France a “worrying disappearance”, Reuters reports.
Has Meng Hongwei angered China?
Meng Hongwei’s disappearance seems to fit in with a now familiar pattern among China’s senior Communist Party officials. The official in question suddenly drops out of the public eye and an alarm is raised that the person is “missing”, usually by members of the public.
Eventually, the party issues a terse statement that the official is “under investigation”, the official is then booted from the party for “disciplinary infractions” and – eventually – a prison sentence is announced. Since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, well over a million party officials have been disciplined in some way.
Mr Hongwei’s case is notable for a few reasons. First, his wife notified the French authorities after he had only been missing for a few days. Family members of missing party officials rarely, if ever, reach out to foreign authorities, in fear their relatives will face ever greater punishment.
Did the wife do this because she felt there was no other option? Also, at one time, China prized Mr Meng’s lofty position at Interpol.
If he has really gone missing within the Chinese state apparatus, who did he anger, or what could he have done for Beijing to willingly, and publicly, forfeit the top job at Interpol?
As president, Mr Meng leads the Executive Committee, which provides the overall guidance and direction to Interpol. Mr Meng’s term is scheduled to run until 2020.
Before taking over at Interpol, Meng Hongwei was deputy minister in charge of public security in China.
After his election human rights groups expressed concern that the move could help China pursue political dissidents who have fled the country.
But Mr Meng said at the time that he was ready to do “everything he could towards the cause of policing in the world”.
Mr Meng has 40 years of experience in criminal justice and policing in China, notably in the fields of drugs, counter-terrorism and border control, according to Interpol.
Interpol can issue a red notice – an international alert – for a wanted person.
But it does not have the power to send officers into countries to arrest individuals, nor issue arrest warrants.