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Chinese Court Convicts 44 Taiwanese Nationals in Telecom Fraud Scheme

FILE - The Chinese police SWAT team lines up as suspects of telecom fraud arrive before their deportation to China at the International Airport of Phnom Penh, Cambodia June 24, 2016.

A Beijing court has handed down prison sentences to 44 Taiwanese nationals in connection with a fraudulent telecom operation based in Kenya, a decision that is likely to increase tensions between China and self-ruled Taiwan.

The Taiwanese nationals were among 85 suspects who received various jail terms during Thursday's court session.Two of the Taiwanese nationals were sentenced to 15 years in prison for their part in the scheme.

China has secured the extradition of 288 Taiwanese nationals over the past year from various countries, including Kenya, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia, who have been accused of defrauding Chinese citizens of millions of dollars. Chinese state media have said at least some of the fraud suspects allegedly called Chinese citizens and pretended to be prosecutors demanding payment for crimes or infractions, with the threat of jail for those who did not pay up. The victims were allegedly told to wire money to an account to clear their name.

The extraditions have angered Taipei, which has accused Beijing of effectively kidnapping its citizens.

China considers the self-ruled island a breakaway province, and has successfully kept other nations from establishing formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan.