China detains 35 Japanese for alleged telephone fraud

TOKYO (Reuters) - Chinese authorities have detained 35 Japanese nationals in the southeastern province of Fujian for alleged fraud, the Japanese foreign ministry said on Wednesday, in what was probably one of the worst cases of telephone scams targeting the elderly.

Phone-based fraud targeting senior citizens is widespread in Japan, with an impostor, usually posing as a child or grandchild desperately in need of cash, asking an elderly person to make a bank transfer or hand money to a friend or colleague.

“We were informed that local authorities notified Japanese consulate-general in Guangzhou on July 3 that they had taken 35 Japanese nationals into criminal custody on suspicion of fraud,” a foreign ministry official, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters.

The official declined to give further details because of the investigation being conducted by Chinese authorities.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China had informed Japan about the 35 people detained on June 30 on suspicion of fraud. He gave no other details.

The Nikkei business daily said the Japanese nationals were accused of involvement in telephone scams targeting residents of Chiba prefecture east of Tokyo, the Japanese capital.

The group is the largest Japanese telephone fraud group discovered to be operating in China so far, in terms of the numbers detained, the Nikkei said.

Such groups have increasingly been making calls from China in recent years to evade crackdowns by Japanese authorities, the paper added.

The detained Japanese nationals were alleged to have played the role of callers in the fraud, it said, adding that it was up to Chinese authorities to decide whether to hand them over to Japan.

Japanese police officials were not immediately available for comment.

Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Paul Tait and Clarence Fernandez