Eighty-five defendants, including 44 Taiwan residents, received sentences ranging from 21 months to 15 years in a Beijing court on Thursday for their involvement in a cross-border telecom fraud.
The defendants confessed in court and expressed regret. Twelve of the 85 convicted returned 460,000 yuan (,870) of ill-gotten assets.
Of the 44 defendants from Taiwan, two primary suspects charged with fraud were sentenced to serve jail terms of 15 years. Another 42 received sentences ranging from 21 months to 14 years, according to Beijing No 2 Intermediate People's Court.
All those convicted were deprived of their political rights and fined.
The judicial authorities on the Chinese mainland protected the suspects' rights and issued verdicts based on their crimes in accordance with law, An Fengshan, spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, said on Thursday.
According to the court, 70 of the 85 suspects, including those from Taiwan, were extradited from Kenya in April 2016.
"In practice, most of the Taiwan convicts will serve their jail terms on the mainland in accordance with law rather than being sent back to Taiwan to serve their sentences," said Zhao Zhengda, a lawyer at Yinke Law Firm.
After the sentencing, the convicts from Taiwan can apply to the island's judicial department to serve their jail terms there. Authorities from the island can make a formal request to the Ministry of Justice under an agreement on obeying court rulings, said Zhao Chunyu, another lawyer at the firm.
According to the court, between June 2014 and April 2016, the suspects worked in a criminal group to conduct telecom fraud targeting people on the Chinese mainland and in Indonesia and Kenya.
The court said they pretended to be customer service personnel at an express company or working staff at a medical insurance department to swindle the victims.
In addition, other suspects pretended to be police officers or prosecutors and told the victims they were involved in crimes resulting from disclosure of their private information. The victims were tricked into believing the caller was engaged in an investigation or protecting their assets.
"They illegally obtained the victims' bank account information and induced them to transfer their savings to the swindlers' bank account, or asked them to agree to let others use their electronic bank account in remote areas," the statement released by the court said.
The swindlers cheated 185 victims on the Chinese mainland, it said. The amount of money involved was about 29 million yuan.
During the court hearing, judicial authorities offered free legal aid to those who didn't hire lawyers and listened attentively to the lawyers' defense statements.