New Zealand-led probe uncovers online child abuse network

Investigators identified some 90,000 online accounts that had possessed or traded the shocking abuse images, authorities said. — AP

THE HAGUE, Netherlands: A long-running global investigation into child abuse images shared online has led to the arrests of dozens of suspects in New Zealand and the safeguarding of 146 children around the world, New Zealand authorities and the European Union police agency Europol said on March 2.

New Zealand authorities said in a statement that the child abuse material “is some of the most egregious investigators have been exposed to. Many of the children featured in the images and videos were just infants who were exposed to obvious and intentional pain and suffering.”

The New Zealand interior ministry said “Operation H” was launched in October 2019 by its child exploitation team after a service provider found thousands of users of an online platform sharing what it called “some of the most horrific and devastating child sexual abuse material online”.

Investigators identified some 90,000 online accounts that had possessed or traded the shocking abuse images, authorities said.

The New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs reached out to law enforcement agencies around the world to coordinate its investigation, including the FBI, Europol, Interpol and police in Canada and Australia.

“To date, the international investigation has led to the opening of 836 cases internationally, the arrests of 46 individuals across New Zealand, the identification of more than 100 suspects across the EU and the safeguarding of 146 children across the globe,” Europol said in a statement.

The EU police agency said two suspects in Austria and Hungary were identified for allegedly “abusing their own children, who were six and eight years old, respectively”. Europol said both children were subsequently safeguarded.

Tim Houston, who led the operation in New Zealand, paid tribute to the national and international law enforcement agencies involved.

“This operation will have an impact on the global networks that deal in the most horrific and damaging material, and we are extraordinarily proud of the effect it will have on children’s lives around the world,” he said in a statement. – AP

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