Hundreds arrested after police bust WeChat vice ring run in China and Malaysia
Gang used popular social media service to pimp out women, earning 100 million yuan last year
Chinese authorities have broken up an international prostitution ring that used the popular social media service WeChat to run its business.
A total of 349 people were arrested and more than 32 million yuan (US$5 million) seized from the gang in the southern megacity of Shenzhen, news website Oeeee.com reported on Tuesday.
The gang operated in mainland China and Malaysia and its business was largely conducted through WeChat, China’s most popular social media platform, according to a statement by Shenzhen police on Saturday that first disclosed the arrests.
Transaction records showed the ring earned 100 million yuan last year.
It is one of China’s biggest cases of online organised crime, as the use of technology by criminal gangs increases.
The case first came to the authorities’ attention in September when the Ministry of Public Security ordered the Shenzhen police to investigate a gang that was suspected of sending Chinese women to Malaysia to work as prostitutes and run brothels there.
After a three-month investigation, Shenzhen police identified two alleged ringleaders, identified only by their surnames Li and Liu, from southern Hunan province.
The gang used a complex structure, moving many of its operations to Malaysia to avoid detection by the Chinese police.
According to the report, 32-year-old Li is accused of setting up a fake technology company in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province, as a front for the gang’s operations.
Li and Liu are accused of controlling online cash transactions though five WeChat accounts and developing an app within the platform that allowed them to run brothels in Malaysia.
The gang also used bank accounts opened by Malaysians in China to withdraw and transfer money.
The vice ring is thought to have been operating in the southern province of Guangdong since 2015 before expanding into Malaysia.
The gang tried to drum up business in Malaysia by pretending that the woman were actresses and models in China and created fake websites to reinforce this impression.
Police in Malaysia cooperated with the Chinese investigation and Li was detained in the country on December 12. Liu was arrested in Hunan and a coordinated operation by the police in both countries resulted in the detention of a total of 349 suspects.
A total of 69 Chinese suspects have since been extradited to the mainland.