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Worldwide child sex offender network dismantled

The Hague, 5 November 2007

Customers from all over the world ordered tailor-made videos showing the sexual abuse of children from a modelling website run by an Italian citizen

The case, named “Operation Koala”, began in 2006 when a child abuse video was discovered in Australia. This particular video had been produced in Belgium. A Belgian perpetrator and two victims were identified. Consequently, the sole producer of the material, a 42-year-old Italian national, was arrested. He was running a website on which he sold over 150 self-made, sexually explicit videos of underage girls. This business had been running for a year and a half, generating considerable profits from around 2500 customers worldwide. The information from Australia was routed via Interpol to Belgium and Europol. The keys to the success of this operation are the provision of valuable data by Member States and Interpol and crime analysis for more than a year carried out by specialists in dealing with online child sex abuse cases at Europol and the judicial co-ordination carried out by Eurojust.

The abusive material was mainly produced in the Ukraine in the man’s private studio. Some material was filmed in Belgium and in the Netherlands. The children were paid small amounts of money to pose as models in a sexually explicit fashion. One of the videos sold by the Italian suspect shows a father sexually abusing his daughters of 9 and 11 years of age. The customers were also able to order tailor-made videos. Upon request the children wore suggestive lingerie, at times bought by the customers themselves. Requests on how to pose were also given and some customers even travelled to the studio in order to attend the video shoots or to make their own private videos.

Shortly before the suspect was due to move permanently to the Ukraine, the Italian national police in Bologna arrested him. After his arrest, the Italian authorities forwarded all the digitalised material, including customer details, to Europol. The material was analysed and disseminated to the countries in which customers were identified. Eurojust and Europol, working in close co-operation, invited representatives from 28 countries to several operational meetings in The Hague.

At Eurojust, the Belgian and Italian National Members took the initiative to co-ordinate, on a judicial level, all the countries involved. This remarkable level of co-operation with all Eurojust National Members, addressing their national authorities to follow the deadlines established for the common operations, contributed to the success of the joint Europol - Eurojust operation.

Subsequent investigations were initiated by the national authorities. This led to a significant number of arrests and the seizure of a considerable amount of child abuse material. So far, 23 children between 9 and 16 years of age have been identified. Amongst those arrested were several persons working in trusted positions, such as school teachers and swimming instructors.

Europol’s Director, Max-Peter Ratzel, said: “This successful investigation has been extremely time-consuming, but the fact that the perpetrators behind these outrageous assaults towards children now are facing justice makes every hour used worth it”.

During a press conference in The Hague today, Europol’s Deputy Director, Mr Mariano Simancas, said:
“The key to the success of this operation is the provision of valuable data by Member States and crime analysis carried out by specialists in dealing with online child sex abuse cases. The quality of the intelligence reports has been praised by the countries involved and has been considered crucial in relation to obtaining search warrants”.

Ms Michèle Coninsx, Eurojust’s National Member for Belgium, commented on the results: “On the judicial level, Belgium took the lead at Eurojust. We organised, together with Italy and Europol, four co-ordination meetings, resulting in simultaneous and co-ordinated actions in 19 countries in the European Union and beyond. An amazingly large amount of child abuse material was seized. With this large scale co-ordinated action, we want to give a signal to the potential offenders that we are determined to continue to fight against these revolting crimes. At the same time, we hope to save a lot of young future victims.”    

Mr Michael Kennedy, President of the College of Eurojust, added: “I am delighted to see the excellent results achieved in this case by co-operation involving investigators and prosecutors in EU Member States and counterparts outside the European Union, facilitated and supported by extensive work at Eurojust and Europol. This is a first-class example of how the difficult challenges presented by international organised criminals using the internet can be met to bring to justice those who exploit and abuse young, innocent and powerless children in many parts of the world.”

In this co-ordinated action, 2500 “customers” in 19 countries were identified; thousands of computers, videos and photographs were seized. In a large number of cases, more than a million files and pictures were found.

For more information, please contact:

Mr Søren Kragh Pedersen, Corporate Communications
Office +31 70 302 5118 – soren.pedersen[AT]

Mr Joannes Thuy, Press Officer & Spokesperson
Office +31 70 412 5508 - jthuy[AT]

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