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Nairobi rejects Beijing plea to extradite cyber suspects

Saturday March 21 2015

Chinese suspects in a Nairobi court where they were charged with using radio communication equipment without a licence. They denied the charges and were remanded in custody. PHOTO | PAUL WAWERU |

Chinese suspects in a Nairobi court where they were charged with using radio communication equipment without a licence. They denied the charges and were remanded in custody. PHOTO | PAUL WAWERU |  NATION MEDIA GROUP

KENFREY KIBERENGE
By KENFREY KIBERENGE
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Kenya has declined a request by the Chinese government to hand over 76 of its citizens who are facing cybercrime charges following their arrest in Nairobi last year.

Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho said the Chinese nationals would stand trial in Kenya due to the absence of legal provisions to back the Chinese request.

“The court case is ongoing. We do not have a provision like that (handing over suspects to another country) in our laws. Anything you hear like that is a bad and ugly rumour,” the PS told the Sunday Nation.

In February, National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale revealed that he had drafted a Bill that would facilitate the returning of prisoners to their home counties to complete the legal process and serve their time, if any, there.

The Transfer of Prisoners Bill, if passed, could see a number of Kenyans serving jail terms in foreign countries transferred back home to complete their terms. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was the first to make the request during his official visit to Kenya in mid-January.

“What we want is to repatriate these citizens so that they will undergo fair trial inside China instead of getting released here in Kenya,” he told reporters at a press conference.

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“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. But this is by no means a cyber-attack as some media have speculated.”

The next day, the Chinese ambassador to Kenya, Mr Liu Xianfa, wrote to Kenya’s Foreign Affairs ministry requesting that the 76 be handed over.

“The results of investigations indicate that the nature of the crime is cross-border telecommunication fraud and the victims are in China. The social impact of the crime is terribly serious and the Chinese government and public paid high attention to this case,” read the letter.

“At the request of the Chinese victims, the Chinese police has (sic) formally filed these cases.”

But Law Society of Kenya chairman Eric Mutua has in the past 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.

ILLOGICAL PRESSURE

National Assembly Committee on Defence and Foreign Relations vice-chairman Mr Barre Shill also called the pressure from the Chinese “not logical”.

“...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 until we are done with them,” he added. Kenya Police says the 76 Chinese and one Thai national were arrested on December 5, 2014 in Nairobi’s upmarket Runda Estate for operating an illegal multiple hi-tech telecommunications system.

They were discovered after a fire broke out in the rented house, killing one of them. Police had gone to the house to investigate the fire when they found the group packed in a room filled with “sophisticated” communication gadgets. capable of disrupting the country’s communications system, infiltrate bank accounts, the M-Pesa network and ATMs.

The 77 suspects are said to have stolen close to Sh1.5 billion from their victims in China through electronic fraud.