Armenia sends 129 telecoms fraud suspects to China

BEIJING (AP) " Armenia has sent 129 Chinese and Taiwanese telecoms fraud suspects to China, state media reported Thursday, indicating both the growing reach of such criminal enterprises and China's determination to shut them down no matter where they set up operations.

The reports said the suspects were arrested in raids on six locations in August. China sent a team to aid in the investigation later that month, they said.

State broadcaster CCTV showed the men and women being taken off a chartered flight handcuffed and in hoods, held tightly by a police officer on either side.

The decision to send the Taiwanese to China brought a protest to both Armenia and China from Taiwan's government, which rejects China's claim of sovereignty over the island. Taipei says Beijing has no right to hold them and demands suspects in such cases be handed over to Taiwanese authorities for investigation and possible prosecution.

However, Taiwan's protests have fallen on deaf ears in all but a few cases, mainly due to its lack of diplomatic ties with most countries. China's global clout helps back its claim that it has the right to prosecute since the victims of the crimes were its citizens.

Xinhua said the group was suspected of posing as Chinese law enforcement officers to extort Chinese out of about $1.2 million spread across 50 different cases. Authorities here say hundreds of millions of dollars have been lost in thousands of cases and have launched a massive public relations campaign to inform the public about the scams.

Such fraud rings have moved increasingly further abroad amid a string of busts and deportations of suspects to China, where they face lengthy prison sentences. Starting out in Southeast Asia, they later set up shop in the Middle East and East Africa, before moving on to Eastern Europe.

Chen Shiqu, vice inspector of the Chinese Public Security Ministry's Criminal Investigation Bureau, said authorities would chase them down no matter where they hid.

"From now on, no matter where the criminal dens are, we will strengthen cooperation with local authorities, eliminate criminal gangs and prosecute their criminal liabilities according to the law," Chen said.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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