BEIJING (Reuters) - A group of Taiwanese deported from Kenya to China after being acquitted of cyber crime are wanted for suspected fraud in China, the Chinese government said on Wednesday.
In a case that has enraged Taiwan, which has accused Beijing of kidnap, the Kenyan government said the people were in Kenya illegally and were being sent back to where they had come from.
Kenya does not have official relations with democratic Taiwan and considers the island part of “one China”, in line with the position of Communist Party leaders in Beijing.
China’s Ministry of Public Security, in a statement released via the official Xinhua news agency, said Kenya had decided to deport 32 Chinese and 45 Taiwanese to China, of whom 10 had already arrived and another 67 would leave on Wednesday.
Xinhua showed some of them arriving in Beijing with black hoods over their heads, escorted by police.
Taiwanese had been heavily involved in telecoms fraud in China and had caused huge losses, with some victims killing themselves, the ministry said.
Taiwanese criminals “have been falsely presenting themselves as law enforcement officers to extort money from people on the Chinese mainland through telephone calls”, the ministry added.
The group detained in Kenya had operated out of Nairobi and were suspected of cheating people out of millions of yuan across nine provinces and cities in China, and as most the victims were in China, they would be prosecuted there, it said.
China had informed Taiwan of the situation and would invite Taiwan law enforcement officials to visit to discuss how best to tackle such fraud, the ministry said.
An Fengshan, spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said Taiwan needed to view the case rationally.
“The victims abhor this kind of fraud. I hope the Taiwan side can give more thought to the victims when it looks at this issue,” he told a news conference carried live on Chinese television.
According to Taiwan’s foreign ministry, one of the Taiwanese sent to China was also a U.S. national. The U.S. State Department said on Tuesday it was aware of this report, but was not able to discuss it “due to privacy considerations.”
On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the department, Anna Richey-Allen, said the United States was following the issue closely and added: “We encourage Beijing to engage with Taipei to resolve this issue on the basis of dignity and respect.”
China views Taiwan as a wayward province and has not ruled out the use of force to ensure unification. Defeated Nationalist forces fled to the island in 1949 after the civil war with the Communists who have remained in control in Beijing since then.
Only 22 countries recognize Taiwan as the Republic of China, with most, including Kenya, having diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China, with its leaders in Beijing.
Taiwanese lawmakers grilled government officials during parliamentary committee sessions about the case.
“The Chinese judicial system is in question for many people in Taiwan,” said Lo Chih-cheng, a lawmaker for the ruling pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party. “They are wondering if those people can get a fair trial in China.”
Rachel Liu, the mother of 28-year-old Liu Tai-ting, who was deported to China on Tuesday even though a Kenyan court had acquitted him last week, also said she did not know about China’s judicial system.
“We hope any trial can be conducted in our own country no matter if guilty or not guilty,” she told Reuters.
Some comments on Taiwan social media questioned whether a precedent was being set of Taiwanese abroad being “taken away” by China, drawing a parallel with the case of five booksellers in Chinese-controlled Hong Kong who temporarily went missing in mysterious circumstances.
Hong Kong authorities are still waiting for detailed explanations from China regarding the booksellers, who produced and sold gossipy books critical of Chinese leaders, amid suspicion among some that they were abducted by Chinese agents. China has denied any wrongdoing.
China’s influential state-run Global Times said Kenya was right to send the people to China and added: “The mainland’s handling of the case is supported by international laws.”
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by J.R. Wu and Carol Lee in TAIPEI and Davi Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON; Editing by Nick Macfie, Robert Birsel and Michael Perry