Long prison sentences for Chinese cybercrime gang in Zambia


Long prison sentences have been handed down to 22 Chinese citizens – and a Cameroonian man – for cyber-related crimes in Zambia.

The gang’s only female prisoner, Gu Tianjiao, reportedly shouted “daddy, daddy” as her seven-year prison sentence was announced by the Lusaka Magistrates Court on Friday.

Some of the gang – including mastermind Li Xianlin – were jailed for up to 11 years.

The group’s members were also fined between $1,500 and $3,000 (£1,180 and £2,360) each.

Victims as far away as Singapore, Peru and the United Arab Emirates have fallen prey to their online scams, Zambian authorities say.

After a trial period of several weeks, the perpetrators pleaded guilty to three charges – computer-related misrepresentation, identity-related crimes and illegally operating a network or service.

The 22 people jailed on Friday were among a larger group of 77 suspects arrested in April in connection with what authorities called a “sophisticated internet fraud syndicate.”

The attack on a Chinese-run company in the capital Lusaka followed an alarming rise in cases of internet fraud in the country, targeting people in countries around the world.

A growing number of Zambians are losing money from their mobile and bank accounts due to money laundering schemes that are spreading to other countries, the Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC) said in April.

Dozens of young Zambians were also arrested after allegedly being recruited as call center agents in fraudulent activities including internet fraud and online scams, the DEC said during the arrests.

The 22 people convicted in Lusaka on Friday held various positions at Chinese-run Golden Top Support Services, the company at the center of the raid.

The company, based in Roma, an upscale suburb of Lusaka, has declined to comment on the allegations.

The Zambian nationals were charged in April and released on bail so they could assist authorities with their investigation.

Authorities said the Zambians involved had been tasked “to engage in deceptive conversations with unsuspecting mobile users on various platforms such as WhatsApp, Telegram, chat rooms and others, using scripted dialogues”.

Among the equipment seized were devices that allowed callers to hide their location and thousands of SIM cards.

Eleven Simboxes were discovered during the raid; these are devices that can route calls over real telephone networks.

More than 13,000 SIM cards, both local and foreign, were also seized, which the DEC said “demonstrates the scale of the operation’s reach.”

During the raid, two firearms and approximately 78 rounds of ammunition were seized, and two vehicles owned by a Chinese national linked to the company were also seized.

More about cybercrime in Africa:

A woman looks at her mobile phone and the BBC News Africa graphicA woman looks at her mobile phone and the BBC News Africa graphic

(Getty Images/BBC)

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