BEIJING (AP) — China is "not aware of the situation" surrounding reports that the wife of the detained Chinese former president of Interpol has been threatened, a foreign ministry spokesman said Wednesday.
However, Lu Kang told reporters that it would be "natural" for Chinese consular officials to contact the wife of Meng Hongwei, who vanished after traveling to China late last month from France, where Interpol is headquartered.
Days later, China said Meng was under investigation for graft and possibly other crimes. His wife, Grace Meng, said she received a phone call from a man speaking Chinese who told her that a pair of "work teams" had been dispatched "just for you."
Grace Meng has been placed under French police protection in the city of Lyon while they investigate whether Chinese agents had indeed been sent to possibly pose harm to her.
Responding to a question about Meng Hongwei at a daily briefing, Lu said "relevant people should not attempt to make excuses for their corrupted and criminal acts" by "slandering" the government of President Xi Jinping, who has waged a wide-ranging and politically charged campaign against graft.
While saying he had no information about contact between Grace Meng and Chinese officials, Lu added that, "if Meng Hongwei's wife is a Chinese citizen, it's natural for Chinese diplomatic missions to contact her. Every government does so."
Asked specifically about the alleged threats, Lu said, "I'm not aware of the situation."
Meng Hongwei was China's vice minister of public security while also leading Interpol, and a longtime Communist Party insider with decades of experience in China's sprawling security apparatus. The 64-year-old appears to be the latest high-ranking official to fall victim to Xi's sweeping purge, possibly due to his relations with other fallen officials.
Grace Meng said she had put their two boys to bed when she got the threatening call — one week after her last contact with her husband. On Sept. 25, he sent her from China an emoji of a knife — suggesting to her he was in danger.
The man who called her on her cellphone spoke in Chinese, she said. She said the only clue he gave about his identity was saying that he used to work for Meng, suggesting that the man was part of China's security apparatus. He also said he knew where she was.
Chinese authorities said Monday that Meng was being lawfully investigated for taking bribes and other crimes that were a result of his "willfulness." Hours earlier, Interpol said Meng had resigned as the international police agency's president. It was not clear whether he did so freely.
China's move to go after the Interpol president, an official with international standing, was unusually audacious even for an administration that under Xi's leadership has sought to assert its interests more aggressively on the global stage.