Australian Federal Police (AFP) have charged 44 men and removed 16 children from harm after investigators dismantled a national paedophile ring.

The alleged perpetrators – some of who stand accused of producing their own child abuse material – are now facing a combined 350 charges after a law enforcement referral sparked a nationwide criminal investigation into child exploitation material.

Commissioner at AFP, Reece Kershaw said the year-long Operation Molto had netted offenders in every Australian state, plus the ACT.

Published in Stuff

Coordinated by the Australian Federal Police-led Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE), the operation has led to the arrest of 44 men aged from 19 and 57 years and employed in a range of jobs such as construction, transport, law enforcement and hospitality.

“Identifying victims is a race against time and the ACCCE’s victim identification team is relentless in rescuing children from sexual abuse,” Kershaw said.

“Pixel by pixel, our investigators painstakingly look for clues and never give up and the tools they use give Australian police access to world leading expertise.

“Viewing, distributing or producing child exploitation material is a crime. Children are not commodities and the AFP and its partner agencies work around the clock to identify and prosecute offenders.”

The national operation began when the ACCCE was sent a law enforcement report showing thousands of offenders were using a cloud storage platform to share child material abuse online.

An earlier sting in 2015 – Operation Niro – dismantled an organised, international paedophile syndicate and led to the arrest of a man who was caught producing specific child abuse material. Some of those caught recently, Mr Kershaw said, were allegedly found to be in possession of that same material.

Kershaw said while the hard work, diligence and co-operation of police should be recognised, victims remained front-of-mind for law enforcement agencies.

“Arresting offenders and putting them before the court is only half the battle,” he said.

In Victoria, 11 men were charged with 105 offences and six children removed from harm.

In New South Wales, eight men were charged with 49 offences and one child removed.

In Queensland, 11 men were charged with 114 crimes with two children removed from harm.

In South Australia, nine alleged offenders are now facing 67 charges with six children removed from harm and in Western Australia, two people were charged with seven offences.

Kershaw said as a result of all AFP investigations, 134 children were removed from harm – 67 domestically and 67 internationally – between July 2019 to June 2020.

And in the past 12 months alone, the ACCCE intercepted and examined more than 250,000 child abuse material files.

Speaking at the opening of the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) at Brisbane on Friday, Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said the sexual abuse and exploitation of children had become more global, prevalent and extreme.

“Technological advances, such as end-to-end encryption, pose significant challenges for law enforcement,” Dutton said.

“I commend the dedication of our specialists who work tirelessly to ensure these crimes have no place in our society.”

By Erin Pearson
Published in Stuff
23 Oct 2020