A total of 337 people in 38 countries have been arrested in an international operation targetting paedophiles on one of the world’s “largest dark web child porn marketplaces”, investigators have announced.
The suspects – from nations including the UK, Ireland, the US and Saudi Arabia – were tracked down after investigators identified a website hosting more than 200,000 videos, “which had collectively been downloaded more than a million times”, says the BBC. A notice on the dark web site, called Welcome To Video, instructed users to upload only child pornography.
The US Department of Justice has charged a 23-year-old South Korean man, named as Jong Woo Son, with running the site. He is already serving an 18-month sentence in his own country for charges related to child abuse images, according to the Daily Mail.
“I’m immensely proud of the role we played in catching some very depraved and dangerous global offenders and for beginning the work that eventually caught Jong Woo Son,” said the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) investigations lead, Nikki Holland.
“Dark web child sex offenders…cannot hide from law enforcement,” she added. “They’re not as cloaked as they think they are, they’re not as safe as they think they are.”
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The investigation was sparked by the probe into British paedophile Matthew Falder, who was imprisoned in 2018 for 32 years after carrying out a campaign of abuse against vulnerable children and adults online, says The Telegraph.
Following the arrest of the scientist and university academic, police began investigating the dark web sites that he had been using to share abuse images and tips with fellow child abusers.
The site at the centre of the latest police sting was “one of the first to offer sickening videos for sale using the cryptocurrency bitcoin”, said the NCA. Members were identified after investigators were able to trace digital transactions back to them.
Seven men in the UK have already been convicted in connection with the site. One of the convicted abusers was jailed for 22 years for raping a five-year-old boy and appearing on Welcome To Video sexually abusing a three-year-old girl.
The international police operation is one of the biggest of its kind since 2014, when Australia’s Task Force targetted a child abuse dark web site with tens of thousands of active users. Police were able to take over the site, using the account of a user who had been arrested, and “for six months in 2014 Task Force Argos… [had] access to the forum’s every crevice, and the private messages of all 45,000 users”, according to The Guardian.
One of those users was Richard Huckle, a Briton living in Malaysia, who was given 22 life sentences in 2016 after pleading guilty to 71 charges of sex abuse of children aged between six months and 12 years.
Huckle was found stabbed to death in his cell in a Yorkshire prison earlier this week.