Home English News US-led case leads to 900 suspects linked to child pornography site

US-led case leads to 900 suspects linked to child pornography site

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Hundreds of suspected paedophiles have been arrested or convicted in connection with what was believed to be the world’s largest child pornography website, law enforcement agencies in the United States and European Union said Friday.

The FBI and US Department of Justice launched “Operation Pacifier” in January 2015 to ferret out members of Playpen, a database of child sexual exploitation images with 150,000 users on the so-called dark web.

Nearly 900 suspects have been arrested or convicted so far.

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Playpen operator Steven Chase, 58, of Naples, Florida, previously convicted in connection with engaging in a child exploitation enterprise and multiple child pornography charges, was sentenced this week in North Carolina to 30 years in federal prison, US authorities said.

Two co-defendants who helped run the website, Michael Fluckiger, 46, of Indiana, and David Browning, 47, of Kentucky, were already sentenced to 20-year prison terms.

Chase created the website in August 2014 using an open network that facilitates anonymous communication. The FBI said that images were indexed by the victims’ age, sex and the sexual activity depicted.

Federal agents were able to launch the case when alerted in December 2014 by a foreign law enforcement agency to the US-based IP address used by Chase. The address was normally kept hidden but inadvertently revealed, authorities said.

“From that point we took normal investigative steps – seized a copy of the website, served search warrants for e-mail accounts, followed the money – and everything led back to Steven Chase,” FBI agent Dan Alfin said.

The FBI has since pursued more than 1,000 leads nationwide for users of Playpen, with more than 1,000 additional cases referred to authorities around the world.

Arrests have been reported in the European Union, Israel, Turkey, Peru, Malaysia, Chile and Ukraine, the FBI said.

So far, at least 350 US-based suspects have been arrested, with another 548 internationally. Prosecutions have been launched against 25 suspects for producing child pornography and another 51 “hands-on” abusers, the FBI said.

US authorities said 55 abused children in the US have been identified or rescued as a result of the case.

Europol said it has helped analyse and complete the data to identify offenders in Europe, and counted 259 sexually abused children identified or rescued outside the US.

Europol executive director Rob Wainwright called the case “one of the most important investigations of online child sexual abuse ever conducted.” He praised the “cooperation on a global scale” among many law enforcement agencies to tackle criminal activity that exploits anonymous platforms.

-dpa