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Australian Police Botch Child Porn Arrests

Australian Police Botch Child Porn Arrests
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Oct 19, 2004 6:16 AM PDT    Text size: 
SYDNEY, Australia – In what is being called the largest child porn raid in the history of Australia, the Child Protection and Sex Crimes Squad is being accused of botching evidence in 30 cases so far, which could result in suspects walking free on a technicality.

The child porn arrests were first announced in September and included a massive raid of 400 homes as part of Operation Auxin. The names of the suspects were handed over to Australian authorities as part of a larger investigation into a Belarus-based company called RegPay, formally Trustbill, that processed paid memberships to dozens of child porn websites.

The seizure of RegPay's database uncovered more than 95,000 worldwide child porn leads that are being actively pursued by task forces in more than a dozen countries, including the U.S.

The Australian leg of the RegPay investigation has so far resulted in more than 200 arrests. Federal police have said the raids uncovered the largest stash of child pornography ever discovered in the nation, which in some instances included images of toddlers being sexually abused.

Shortly after the first phase of the operation, four suspects committed suicide.

But the latest snafu in the Australian raid comes from the discovery of an internal police memo stating that 30 of the child porn suspects were not properly charged and could avoid prosecution altogether.

The onus is being put on the outdated Australian Crime Act, drafted in 1914, which many critics contend is rife with legal loopholes for those charged with the types of cyber crimes that have become rampant, including the possession and distribution of child pornography over the Internet.

According to the NSW Opposition, a political advocacy group, detectives from the Child Protection and Sex Crimes Squad failed to have photographic evidence officially classified by the Office of Film and Literature Classification, an oversight that could lead to dozens of suspects walking free.

"(The memo) makes it very clear that there are problems with the legal proceedings, the exact problems I outlined the other day," said Opposition Leader John Brogden, who has long contested the Crime Act and called for amendments.

Brogden is accusing police of not admitting that the current legislation is seriously flawed and can easily work to the advantage of criminal suspects.

"What's getting me angry is rather than agree that there's a problem and retrospectively legislate to ensure there is no problem, the government's now establishing a cover-up," he told the press. "There's going to be a mountain of these sort (of) issues come up over the next years and if the legislation is faulty from the moment police kick off briefs, what's it going to be like in two or three years time when the matters become even more complicated?"

Authorities have said that the investigation is only just in the beginning phase and that many more arrests are expected.

In some cases, suspects had in excess of 250,000 images and what appeared to be home studios designed to produce child pornography.

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