JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian police on Monday said they had detained more than 150 Chinese nationals accused of carrying out a sophisticated scam that netted around $450 million by tricking their compatriots into paying to make legal cases go away.
"This is an international syndicate of online fraud," Jakarta police spokesman Argo Yuwono told a news conference. "The information first came from China's police department, so this is a joint investigation."
Police said the suspects, 148 of whom were Chinese nationals and the rest Indonesian, had been detained during weekend raids in the capital Jakarta, the city of Surabaya and the islands of Batam and Bali.
"The perpetrators are Chinese. The victims are Chinese. It just happens that they operate from Indonesia," Yuwono added.
The syndicate operated by first tracking down information on wealthy Chinese officials or businessmen embroiled in legal problems, he said.
The victims were then contacted and told by the suspects that they were from the Attorney General's office or the police and could "negotiate to stop the case" on payment of a certain sum.
"The information we got from China is that they have been in operation since the start of the year, and their profit has reached 6 trillion rupiah," Yuwono said, a figure equivalent to $450 million.
Television broadcast images of telephones and office equipment in a house raided by police.
"According to the suspects, it was easier to hide in Indonesia because of its geography," Yuwono said. "If they did it in China, it would be easier to identify them."
The suspects entered Indonesia's sprawling archipelago on tourist visas and will most probably be handed over to immigration officials.
"Most likely they will be deported after we're done with the investigation," said Herry Rudolf of Indonesia's National Police.
(Reporting by Stefanno Reinard; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)