The arrest of an Australian man with links to child abuse in the Philippines has triggered an international police bust which resulted in three children being rescued and a woman arrested.
The paedophile ring bust is part of an ongoing investigation by the Australian Federal Police into the sexual abuse of children in the Philippines.
The raid was sparked after the AFP arrested a 63-year-old Sydney man in January who is accused of live-streaming child abuse online.
An investigation by the AFP’s child-protection unit in Sydney then used intelligence provided by the financial crimes watchdog, AUSTRAC, to discover the man had made 395 transactions, totalling $113,000, to individuals in the Philippines over many years.
After a tip-off from the AFP to authorities in the Philippines, local police raided a property last Wednesday in the north of the capital, Manila.
Three children — aged six, 11 and 14 — were rescued and a 34-year-old woman was arrested on charges that she used the minors to live-stream sexual acts on the internet. Photos show Philippine authorities shielding the children and leading them out of the property.
Since 2010, the Sydney man is suspected of travelling to Manila on a regular basis to engage in criminal activities. He was in the country as recently as December last year.
The initial investigation was sparked by one of his visits to the country last year and he was later arrested and charged with producing child abuse material.
The man was granted bail in the NSW Supreme Court last month after a $30,000 surety was posted by his brother, who the court found to be an “acceptable person”.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton told that the operation was a strong example of Australia’s key security agencies working together across borders to protect children from further harm.
“We will continue doing everything within our power to protect these children and to bring justice to these insidious offenders,” Mr Dutton said.
The bust is the latest in a string of raids on properties in the Philippines uncovering child-exploitation networks, involving the payment of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Australia’s most senior security and police chiefs have warned that communication and live-streaming on the “dark web” have been rising for years, suggesting new laws are needed to crackdown on the growing problem.
Under one plan being worked on by the Morrison government, the nation’s premier foreign cyber intelligence agency — the Australian Signals Directorate — would be enlisted to help track down online pedophiles, terrorists and other serious criminals within Australia. The change could allow the AFP to call for assistance from the ASD to go after serious criminals onshore, while the government is also looking at giving police and security agencies new powers to access end-to-end encrypted content to fight online child sex abuse networks.
With more people on the internet at home during the coronavirus outbreak, AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw has also warned that communication and child-grooming attempts across the dark web have been increasing since the start of the pandemic.
Since the creation of the international law enforcement body known as the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Centre in February last year, 50 operations have been launched resulting in the rescue of 156 victims; 46 suspects or facilitators have been charged and three offenders convicted.
Paula Hudson, the acting AFP commander for the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation and Child Protection Operations, said the officers who investigated the latest case were determined to save the children.
“Our officers don’t stop investigating when there is a chance of rescuing a child from harm and this referral to Philippine authorities is a great example of their dedication to protecting children,” she said.
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