The Chinese Government has formally asked Kenya to hand over 76 of its citizens who are facing cyber-crime charges in Nairobi.
The suspects arrested in Nairobi had stolen close to Sh1.5 billion from their victims in China through electronic fraud, Chinese authorities revealed, as they pushed Kenya to have them extradited.
The Chinese Ambassador to Kenya, Mr Liu Xianfa, wrote to the Foreign Affairs ministry, indicating that the suspects should be turned over because “the results of investigations indicate that all the victims (of the fraud) are in China”.
“The social impact of the crime is terribly serious and the Chinese Government and public paid high attention to this case,” said Mr Liu in the letter dated January 13. “At the request of the Chinese victims, the Chinese police has (sic) formally filed these cases.”
According to the police in Nairobi, the 76 Chinese and one Thai national were arrested in the upmarket Runda Estate for operating an illegal telecommunications system.
One of the houses from which they had been operating was gutted in a fire during which one person, also Chinese, was reported to have died.
“Taking into account of the seriousness of the above mentioned crime, the huge loss suffered by the Chinese victims and the friendly relations between China and Kenya, the Chinese Government further requests the Kenya Government to repatriate the above mentioned suspects to China at an early date for further investigations and prosecution,” said Mr Liu’s letter.
Asked to comment, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it does not comment on diplomatic issues through the media.
“By policy, the Government of Kenya and for that matter Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade responds to any diplomatic communication, be it from the Chinese Government or any other foreign government, only through diplomatic channels,” a statement sent to the Nation said.
But early this week, Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed said Kenya and China had been discussing some form of “judicial cooperation”.
“We have talked about what kind of instruments we need to start negotiating and what kind of work we need to do,” she said.
On Thursday, the National Assembly Committee on Defence and Foreign Relations vice-chairman, Mr Barre Shill, said the pressure from the Chinese is “not logical”.
He added: “These people (are suspected to have) committed crimes in Kenya; until we finish with them, there is no reason we should repatriate them. If the Chinese Government has a case with them, let them wait after we are done with them.”
TRY THEM HERE
Law Society of Kenya chairman Eric Mutua said Kenya should try the suspects.
“My suspicion is that the Chinese may be using this ploy to have the suspects set free. If the offence was committed in Kenya and is contrary to the laws of Kenya, then Kenya should try them,” he said.
Sources within the Kenya police told the Nation that the Chinese Government had presented “findings” that the suspects electronically siphoned over 100 million Yuan (about Sh1.5 billion) from unsuspecting Chinese citizens.
The letter follows a series of diplomatic efforts that China has used since the suspects were arrested last month.
Last weekend, Chinese Foreign minister Wang Yi was in Nairobi and said the suspects were needed in China “for fair trial”.
“Available evidence shows that this is a case of fraud launched from outside China against Chinese citizens inside China and the suspects used very simple measures.
“What we want is to repatriate these citizens so that they undergo fair trial inside China instead of getting released here in Kenya,” he said after meeting President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House, Nairobi.
The Foreign Ministry later clarified that the visit had been planned long before the suspects were arrested, although sources indicated that Mr Wang’s visit took more time on the case than on review of the status of bilateral agreements signed between the two countries last year.
Kenya and China have no agreement on exchange of prisoners.
China’s argument has been that the suspects are part of a global syndicate targeting China and that other groups had been arrested in the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore and Egypt over the last two years.
In December, a Chinese police team came to Nairobi to, according to the embassy, “jointly investigate” the case with their Kenyan counterparts. However, the group is said to have pressed for a handover of the suspects.
Kenyan security agents claim the hi-tech equipment found in Runda was capable of disrupting the country’s communications systems, infiltrating bank accounts and the M-Pesa money transfer network, which moves over Sh60 billion a month.
When they appeared in a Nairobi court, the suspects denied running a telecommunication system without a licence and conspiracy to commit a felony.
The first group was charged with operating radio communication apparatus and providing telecommunications services without a licence.
The second group of 40 was charged with running a telecommunication system, conspiring to commit a felony and engaging in organised crime.
Ten have also been charged with being in Kenya illegally. They have all been remanded in custody to await the hearing of their case in early March.