Australian authorities have announced child sex abuse charges against 19 men after a tip-off from the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) uncovered a “sophisticated” international paedophile network.
Australian Federal Police Commander Helen Schneider said on Tuesday that 13 children had been rescued from the network, which allegedly used encryption and other means to share child exploitation material on the dark web.
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“Criminals using encryption and the dark web are a challenge for law enforcement, but Operation Bakis shows that when we work together we can bring alleged offenders before the courts,” Schneider said.
“Viewing, distributing or producing child abuse material is a horrific crime, and the lengths that these alleged offenders went to in order to avoid detection makes them especially dangerous – the longer they avoid detection the longer they can perpetuate the cycle of abuse.”
Police said most of the suspects, aged between 32 and 81 years old, had careers requiring technical knowledge of computers and the Internet. Some of the accused are alleged to have produced child sex abuse material themselves.
Two of the Australian men, including a public servant in the Australian Capital Territory, have been convicted and given prison sentences while the others are awaiting trial.
Australian police began investigating the network after two FBI agents investigating child sex abuse offences were shot dead in 2021.
FBI special agents Daniel Alfin and Laura Schwartzenberger were killed while executing a search warrant on the Florida apartment of 55-year-old IT worker David Lee Huber.
Authorities in the US have made 79 arrests and convicted 43 people so far as part of their investigations.
“The complexity and anonymity of these platforms means that no agency or country can fight these threats alone,” FBI Legal Attaché Nitiana Mann said.
“As we continue to build bridges through collaboration and teamwork, we can ensure the good guys win and the bad guys lose.”
The latest arrests come a week after Australian authorities charged a 45-year-old former childcare worker with sexually abusing 91 children in what has been described as one of the worst child sex abuse cases in the country’s history.