Magdeburg (Germany), Sept 26 (Reuters): Police have cracked one of the biggest global child pornography networks involving some 26,500 Internet users in 166 countries, German authorities said today.
They said suspects were traced using computer files seized last year from a man in the city of Magdeburg.
These contained a huge e-mail distribution list, via which suspected paedophiles swapped pornographic images of children as young as four months.
“One of the biggest internationally active networks has been smashed,” said Curt Becker, justice minister for the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt. Officials said the 26,500 suspects worldwide included individuals in the US, Australia and Switzerland, but did not give further details.
In Germany, 530 people — all men — had been identified as suspects and were being investigated for possession or distribution of child pornography.
They included police officials, a border guard and “many teachers and educators”, said Juergen Konrad, attorney-general for Saxony-Anhalt.
In a sweep codenamed Operation Marcy and involving some 1,500 police, 502 premises were raided across Germany this week. Officers seized around 745 computers, at least 35,500 CDs, 8,300 diskettes and 5,800 videos. One photograph seized in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia showed a baby of four months being abused.
Public prosecutor Peter Vogt said members of the network had accessed material via a password system.
A “manager” had checked to make sure participants were contributing, as well as viewing, pornographic images; if not, they were thrown out of the groups.
Vogt said possession of child porn could lead to a jail term of up to one year but production and distribution could carry up to 10 years. The case carried echoes of Operation Landslide, an Interpol-coordinated paedophile hunt which has led to more than 5,000 searches and arrests around the world.
The trigger was the 1999 discovery by the US postal inspection service of a list of 389,000 people who had purchased access to a website supplying child pornography.