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Meng's wife contacted police in Lyon, the French city where the global police agency is based, after not hearing from him since September 25, and after receiving threats by phone and on social media, the ministry said.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to a request for comment from reporters. "France is puzzled about the situation of Interpol's president and concerned about the threats made to his wife".

A person familiar with the investigation into the disappearance said the initial working assumption of Western investigators was that Meng had antagonised Chinese authorities in some way and had been detained as a result.

Because Interpol's secretary general is responsible for the day-to-day running of the agency's operations, Mr Meng's absence may have little operational effect.

Although still listed as a vice-minister on the public security ministry's website, Meng lost his seat on its Communist Party Committee - its real decision-making body - in April.

Meng is the first from his country to serve as Interpol's president, a post that is largely symbolic but powerful in status and not without political weight.

Beijing saw Meng's election as a chance to enlist more worldwide help in tracking down alleged economic criminals, including corrupt officials, targeted by President Xi Jinping's anti-graft campaign.

"Exchanges with Chinese authorities continue", the ministry said.

China has not commented officially on Meng's disappearance and there was no mention of him in official media on Saturday. He appears to have moved swiftly into the central government in Beijing, acting as an assistant to the public security minister - China's top cop - as well as head of the transportation department.

He was not on French soil when he was last seen, according a senior French law enforcement official, who declined to say whether he was in China. His term as Interpol president runs until 2020.

However, his appointment was an alarming sign of China's ability to shape worldwide organisations, including those in which its authoritarian influence was extremely unsafe, she said.

His appointment also sparked concern about China extending its crackdown on dissidents overseas.

China now has 44 outstanding red notices, mostly related to murder, intentional injury and drug smuggling, according to Interpol's web site.

By 2004, he was a vice minister of public security and that same year became head of Interpol's China branch. However, it does not have the power to send officers into countries to arrest individuals or issue arrest warrants.

Meng rose up the ranks of the country's domestic security apparatus when it was under the leadership of Zhou Yongkang, a rival to Xi and the highest-ranking official to be brought down on corruption charges.