BEIJING (Reuters) – A court in Beijing on Thursday handed down sentences of up to 15 years in jail to 33 people for telecoms fraud, including 13 from Taiwan who had been deported from Kenya, a case that infuriated Taiwan.
Over the past two years countries including Kenya, Spain, Vietnam and Cambodia have deported hundreds of people from Taiwan to China for telecoms fraud, sparking accusations from Taipei that Beijing was effectively kidnapping its citizens.
China has defended the deportations, saying the crimes were committed against people in China and that as Taiwan is a part of China it was natural foreign governments should send these people to China rather than Taiwan.
In a brief statement, the Beijing court said that the 33 were given jail terms ranging from two years to 15 years and had also been given unspecified fines. It did not give specific details of the sentences for the 13 people from Taiwan.
On at least two occasions last year Kenya deported groups of Taiwanese to China. In one case, a Kenyan magistrate said the Taiwanese should be repatriated to their place of origin, Taiwan, but the Kenyan government sent them to China.
Kenya, like most countries, only has diplomatic relations with China. Beijing considers self-ruled and democratic Taiwan a wayward province, ineligible for formal ties with other nations.
Chinese authorities have sought to contain an explosion of telecom crime it says has led to huge financial losses, with callers often impersonating officials or authority figures and preying on the elderly, students or the unemployed.
The fraud has spread overseas, with Chinese speakers recruited in neighbouring Taiwan increasingly setting up operations in East Africa or Southeast Asia.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry)