World

International child porn ring busted, 39 held

THE HAGUE Police have arrested 39 suspects in about a dozen countries across Europe and Latin America after busting an online paedophile ring that used the WhatsApp chat service to share images of child sex abuse, officials said on Tuesday.

In coordinated swoops late last month, local and international authorities searched houses and seized hundreds of devices containing child sexual exploitation material in South and Central America as well as Germany, Italy and Spain, Europe's policing agency Europol said.

"These offenders are pushing the boundaries of modern technology to try to avoid being caught by law enforcement," Europol's director Rob Wainwright said.

Dubbed Operation Tantalio, the investigation was sparked last year by the Spanish police's High-Tech Crime Unit focusing on the Tor encryption network, which is used by criminals to mask their identities.

"Prompted by clear evidence of prolific sharing of indecent images, the Spanish investigators revealed links diverting users to private groups on WhatsApp," Europol said.

Some 25 groups, formed by invitation only, are being investigated, according to Europol.

BRUTAL

Spanish police said the photos and videos that were seized showed "humiliating treatment" and "excessive brutality" involving children from babies to children up to eight years old.

Of the 39 suspects, 17 were nabbed in Spain.

The other arrests took place in Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Colombia, El Salvador, Italy, Germany, Paraguay and Portugal.

Spanish police said they found handwritten material at a house they searched in Lugo in the north of the country listing the names, ages and places where encounters with minors took place. Some of them dated back 20 years.

"We need to continue to combine our joint resources and skills to tackle this threat to our children and bring these offenders to justice," Mr Wainwright said. - AFP

WHATSAPPPornographychild abuse