China To Kenya: We Want Our Cyber Criminals Back

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Written by Dana Sanchez

Kenya has detained 76 Chinese suspects in its first major international cyber crime case and China wants them repatriated, ChristianScienceMonitor reports.

China is the largest foreign investor in Kenya and its second largest trading partner with bilateral trade volume reaching $3.27 billion in 2014, according to Chinese customs officials. Recently, China made a $3.8-billion loan to Kenya to fund a railway line to boost trade between Kenya and its landlocked neighbors.

Kenyan officials arrested 76 Chinese and a one Thai citizen on charges of cross-border telecommunication fraud and electronically stealing more than 100 million yuan ($16.5 million) from Chinese victims.

Chinese officials say all of the victims are in China so the suspects should be extradited to China for investigation and prosecution.

Kenyan leaders want the suspects tried in Kenya since the alleged crimes were committed in Kenya.

Kenya has charged the suspects with operating an unlicensed telecommunication facility after arresting them in Nairobi in December. If found guilty, each suspect faces fines of five million Kenyan shillings ($54,000) and up to 15 years in jail. More charges are pending, ChristianScienceMonitor reports.

In December, Kenyan police responded to a house fire in the high-end Nairobi suburb of Runda, home to expats, prominent politicians and embassies including the American Embassy located two kilometers from the fire. Police found more than 70 Chinese citizens living in cramped quarters. One person died in the fire, according to a report in SecurityGladiators.

Police also found computers, Internet equipment, and what looked like a radio station and command center.

The Chinese citizens were arrested and charged with running an illegal radio communication station, SecurityGladiators reports.

The case is Kenya’s first major international cybercrime case, and highlights vulnerabilities in the country’s cybersecurity network, ChristianScienceMonitor reports. Suspects may have seen Kenya as an ideal cybercrime base because it has few cybercrime laws and relatively strong Internet connections.

“Cybercrime laws remain largely unclear,” said Barry Macharia, a technical manager at Tespok Kenya, a telecommunication service providers association. “This, coupled with (the) lack of proper security mechanisms in place, makes Kenyans a lucrative target for cyber criminals.”

Computer crime costs Kenyans $22.8 million a year, according to a recent report on cyber security from Serianu Limited, a Kenyan IT and business consulting firm, ChristianScienceMonitor reports. Kenyan banks in 2013 lost $17 million through fraudulent schemes involving their employees. There were 2.6 million cyber attacks in 2012 and 5.4 million in 2013, Serianu reported.

Cybercrime in Kenya gone on unnoticed for some time, according to security expert Richard Tutah. “We have to take this very seriously and fight it with the same zeal as we are fighting terrorism.”