Huge child pornography network busted

Updated October 17, 2019

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An undated handout picture released by Britain's National Crime Agency (NCA) in London on October 16, 2019 shows a screen shot of the seized dark web 'Welcome To Video' website. — AFP/ National Crime Agency
An undated handout picture released by Britain's National Crime Agency (NCA) in London on October 16, 2019 shows a screen shot of the seized dark web 'Welcome To Video' website. — AFP/ National Crime Agency

WASHINGTON: American, British and South Korean officials announced at a news briefing here on Wednesday that they have busted one of the world’s largest child sexual exploitation networks.

An analysis of a server, seized by South Korean authorities, revealed that the website had more than one million bitcoin addresses, signifying that the website had a capacity for at least one million users.

The operation led to the rescue of at least 23 minor victims residing in the United States, Spain and the United Kingdom, who were being actively abused by the users of the site.

The internet-based child pornographic network was the world’s “largest child sexual exploitation market by volume of content”, said US Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard Downing.

Officials said at the news briefing that hundreds of suspects had been charged worldwide for their alleged involvement with “the largest darknet child pornography website”, funded by Bitcoin.

In Washington, a federal grand jury indicted a South Korean national — Jong Woo Son, 23 — for operating the website called “Welcome to Video”.

The nine-count indictment was unsealed on Wednesday along with a parallel civil forfeiture action. Son has also been charged and convicted in South Korea and is currently in custody, serving his sentence in South Korea.

Authorities have also arrested 337 other users in the US states of Alabama, Arkansas, California, Con­necticut, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsy­lvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington State and Washington, DC.

Some of the suspects were arrested in the United Kingdom, South Korea, Germany, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the Czech Republic, Canada, Ireland, Spain, Brazil and Australia.

“Darknet sites that profit from the sexual exploitation of children are among the most vile and reprehensible forms of criminal behaviour,” said US Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski.

“This administration will not allow child predators to use lawless online spaces as a shield.”

He said the US Department of Justice was working closely with partners in South Korea and around the world to rescue child victims and bring to justice the perpetrators of the abhorrent crimes.

Chief of the US Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Enforcement Don Fort told the news briefing that their agents played a key role in busting the network.

“Through the sophisticated tracing of bitcoin transactions, IRS-CE special agents were able to determine the location of the Darknet server, identify the administrator of the website and ultimately track down the website server’s physical location in South Korea,” he said.

“This large-scale criminal enterprise that endangered the safety of children around the world is no more.”

According to the indictment, agents from the IRS, HSI, National Crime Agency in the United Kingdom, and Korean National Police in South Korea arrested Son and seized the server that he used to operate a darknet market that exclusively advertised child sexual exploitation videos available for download by members of the site.

The operation resulted in the seizure of approximately eight terabytes of child sexual exploitation videos, which is one of the largest seizures of its kind.

Published in Dawn, October 17th, 2019