A lengthy investigation into the online trade in child sexual exploitation material (CSAM) has led to the arrest of dozens of New Zealand-based individuals.
Led by New Zealand’s Department of Home Affairs (DIA) Te Tari Taiwhenua, the two-year international operation identified more than 90,000 online accounts that owned or traded CSAM.
Launch of the DIA’s Digital Child Exploitation Team Operation H in October 2019 following a whistleblower from an electronic service provider who discovered that tens of thousands of offenders were using their platform to share CSAM.
The DIA has called on international law enforcement agencies, including INTERPOL, to assist and coordinate what officials have describe as “the largest and most difficult online child exploitation operation carried out from New Zealand”.
Operation H uncovered a global network of CSAM’s secret online traders. As a result of this action, 836 cases were investigated internationally, 46 New Zealand residents were arrested and 146 children worldwide were protected, including four in the United States.
More than 100 suspects have been identified across the European Union. In two of the cases, the suspects were offenders based in Austria and Hungary who abused their own children, aged six and eight respectively. The two children were then protected.
In Spain, a suspect was caught possessing and distributing CSAM and capturing nude and sexually explicit images of adults on video without their consent.
Investigators found 32 GB of files, equivalent to 90 minutes of video. Europol describe the files content as “particularly disturbing images of child abuse, including images depicting sadistic acts of infant and child sexual abuse”.
Tim Houston, Head of the Digital Child Exploitation Team and Head of Operation H, said: “This operation will impact the global networks dealing with the most horrific and damaging material, and we are extremely proud of the effect it will have on the lives of children around the world.
Thanks to the investigation, INTERPOL was able to develop its CSAM database of over 27,700 identified victims and some 12,500 offenders worldwide, potentially contributing to the future identification of additional victims and offenders.