Police in Kenya are holding 77 Chinese nationals accused of running a cybercrime network and mysterious "command centre" from upmarket houses in Nairobi, officials and reports said Thursday.
Kenyan police believe the gang were "preparing to raid the country's communication systems" and that they possessed equipment capable of infiltrating bank accounts, Kenya's M-Pesa mobile banking system and ATM machines, according to the Daily Nation newspaper.
"The suspects are being interrogated to establish their mission in the country and what they wanted to do with the communication gadgets," confirmed the director of Kenya's Criminal Investigation Department, Ndegwa Muhoro.
"They have been charged in court," he added.
A detective close to the case said the raids were sparked after police began investigating a house fire that left one person dead. The source said the charges levelled against the 77 so far include "being in the country illegally and operating radio equipment" without the necessary permits.
According to the Standard newspaper, the Chinese nationals were living in "military-style dormitories", and that China's ambassador to Kenya has also been summoned to "explain if his government was aware of the group's activities".
Kenyan foreign minister Amina Mohamed "made it clear that the Chinese government should fully cooperate on this matter," Kenya's communications minister Fred Matiang'i said.
"China promised to send investigators to work with ours on this matter," he said, adding the case "is being investigated by the police working closely with the foreign ministry."
The Standard newspaper said preliminary investigations have shown the group were making microchips for ATM cards, and that they also "ran a command centre whose activities are yet to be established".
The homes were reportedly located in the upmarket northern Nairobi suburb of Runda, which is situated next to the diplomatic area of Gigiri, home to the United Nations' headquarters and US embassy.