SUVA, FIJI (AFP) - Fiji has deported 77 Chinese nationals accused of running a phone and online scam targeting victims in mainland China, the latest in a series of overseas crackdowns orchestrated by Beijing.
The mass arrest and expulsion was part of a month-long operation involving both Fijian and Chinese law enforcement agencies, and echoes similar joint operations carried out in Indonesia and Cambodia last week.
Cyber criminals targeting victims in China have increasingly exploited technological advances to operate from abroad in a bid to evade authorities.
The Fiji-based ring is suspected of involvement in more than 50 telecom and online fraud cases, and cost victims in China more than six million yuan (S$1.21 million), Fijian police said on Tuesday (Aug 8), without giving precise details of the scams.
"These 77 Chinese nationals have been sent back to China from Fiji on August 4, 2017," the Fiji police and Chinese embassy in Suva said in a joint statement.
The accused were flown to Changchun in northeast China's Jilin Province.
China's official Xinhua news agency said the scam came to light after one of the victims was swindled out of 1.3 million yuan and committed suicide, triggering a large-scale investigation.
The probe exposed an illegal online gambling and lottery gang involving more than 200 suspects based in China, Indonesia and Fiji who had illegally taken nearly 100 million yuan.
A team of Chinese police were sent to Fiji four weeks ago and on July 18 they arrested the 77 suspects and confiscated equipment, including mobile phones, computers and bank cards.
Another 83 people were arrested in China.
Beijing has become increasingly assertive in extraditing overseas fraud suspects.
Last week, Indonesia deported 143 people, including 22 Taiwanese, to China over fraud cases, days after police said they had busted a sprawling US$450 million (S$613 million) cyber fraud ring targeting wealthy businessmen and politicians in China.
The deportations drew a strong protest from Taiwan, which said the Taiwanese suspects should have been returned to the island.
Taiwan's representative office in Suva said it had been assured by Fiji police that the 77 deported from the South Pacific nation were all nationals of the People's Republic of China.
Also last week, Cambodia arrested more than 200 Chinese men and women suspected of running an online scam that persuaded victims to send nude photographs and then extorted them for cash, after a tip-off from Chinese authorities.