MANILA (AFP) - The Philippines will likely deport nearly 400 Taiwanese and Chinese arrested in a major telephone scam that swindled millions of dollars from elderly compatriots, police said Friday.
Police made the arrests during raids on 20 houses across Manila on Thursday, after being tipped off by authorities in mainland China and Taiwan, Philippine anti-organized crime task force chief Reginald Villasanta told AFP.
Asked if the suspects would be deported he said: "Before the operation was launched we were provided with the evidence gathered by our counterparts in Taiwan and China. So most likely that is what is going to happen."
Posing over the phone as police officers or state prosecutors in their homelands, the suspects scared mostly elderly victims into transferring their savings into bank accounts of the gang, Villasanta said.
"They would tell the victims their bank accounts are being used by terrorists or syndicates and should transfer them to a safer account," Villasanta said.
"In reality these accounts are controlled by the syndicate and when the deposits are made they are swiftly cleaned out."
He said the gang stole "millions" of yuan or Taiwan dollars every day, he added. One yuan is worth 15.74 US cents. One Taiwan dollar equals 3.33 US cents.
The gang had been under surveillance since July, however Villasanta said police were not sure how long it had been operating in the Philippines.
A total of 385 foreign suspects were arrested along with two Filipinos of Chinese background, said Superintendent Winnie Quidato, operations chief of the task force.
Seventy-eight Taiwanese suspects were arrested in a similar scam in the southern Philippines in April. The suspects were later deported to face charges at home, authorities said.
But sorting out the mainland Chinese from the Taiwanese in the latest case is proving difficult because the suspects are refusing to cooperate with authorities, according to Quidato.
The Philippines has asked the Chinese embassy and the Taipei cultural office for help in identifying them, Quidato said.
In February last year the Philippines mistakenly deported to China 14 Taiwanese suspects of another scamming operation that had allegedly swindled $20 million from mainland Chinese victims.
A furious Taiwan denounced the mistake as a blow to economic and cultural ties. China sent the 14 suspects home to Taiwan nearly four months later.
Officials at the Taipei cultural office were not available for comment on Friday. Chinese embassy spokesman Zhang Hua told AFP the mission was expected to comment on the arrests later Friday.