Taiwan re-arrests telecoms scam suspects

Prosecutors had angered China earlier by releasing 20 Taiwanese deported from Malaysia last week

TAIPEI • Taiwan's prosecutors angered China over the weekend by freeing 20 Taiwanese suspected of defrauding Chinese nationals in a telecoms scam, but changed their minds yesterday, taking most of them into custody on suspicion of committing a "serious crime".

China had earlier accused Taiwan of disregarding Chinese victims in a case in Malaysia involving Taiwanese suspects. Taipei at first said it did not have enough evidence to detain the individuals, but later reversed its decision.

The move came as island officials are in Beijing this week to negotiate the return of 45 of its citizens who were forcibly sent to China from Kenya. They were linked to a similar telephone fraud case abroad against Chinese nationals. Taiwan at the time accused China of kidnapping the suspects.

Some of the attacks in Chinese state media about the telecoms fraud cases have been deeply personal, even if President-elect Tsai Ing-wen was not directly named. The People's Daily, in a front-page commentary in its overseas edition on Tuesday, lambasted "certain representatives of popular will who sit idly by on their high salaries and votes they've won" to portray themselves as saviours and heroes rather than thinking about fighting crime.

Ever since Ms Tsai and her Democratic Progressive Party won Taiwan's presidential and parliamentary elections by a landslide in January, Beijing has repeatedly warned it will be watching closely what she does, stepping up pressure on the self-ruled island. Ms Tsai takes office on May 20.

Some of the attacks in Chinese state media about the telecoms fraud cases have been deeply personal, even if President-elect Tsai Ing-wen was not directly named. The People's Daily, in a front-page commentary in its overseas edition on Tuesday, lambasted "certain representatives of popular will who sit idly by on their high salaries and votes they've won" to portray themselves as saviours and heroes rather than thinking about fighting crime.

Beijing wants her to state clearly what her policy is on relations with China, but she is keeping quiet.

China has since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949 regarded self-ruled Taiwan as a breakaway province, to be taken back by force if necessary should it make moves towards independence.

Taiwan's authorities had said they had requested evidence from China ahead of the arrival of the 20 Taiwanese deported last Friday from Malaysia, but no information was provided.

Mr Hong Chia Juan, a chief prosecutor in the Taichung District Prosecutor's Office, said yesterday's move came after visual evidence gathered from Malaysian authorities gave his team the evidence they needed to detain most of the individuals for at least two months for investigation. Two of the suspects were under effective house arrest with their movements limited, he said.

Led by the island's justice ministry, Taiwanese officials left for China on Wednesday in the hope of establishing a way to jointly investigate the two cases.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 22, 2016, with the headline 'Taiwan re-arrests telecoms scam suspects'. Print Edition | Subscribe