Seven children have been rescued from harm, a 68-year-old Brisbane man jailed and two people arrested overseas following an international investigation into the sexual abuse of children.
The investigation was a result of an operation by the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Australian Border Force (ABF), the National Crime Agency (NCA) in the United Kingdom and Philippines National Police (PNP).
The Brisbane man was jailed today (2 December 2021) for five years, with a non-parole period of two years, after being found guilty of a range of child abuse offences.
Upon returning to Australia from overseas in February 2020, the man’s laptop, smart phone, and a USB drive were examined by ABF officers at Brisbane International Airport and found to contain images of child abuse material.
ABF Investigators attended the airport and subsequently arrested and charged the man with importing tier 2 goods (special offence relating to child abuse material).
The matter was reported to the AFP’s Brisbane Joint Anti-Child Exploitation Team (JACET) and the man was subsequently charged with obtaining child abuse material outside of Australia, causing a child to engage in sexual activity, preparing for/planning an offence of sexual intercourse with a child outside Australia, encouraging an offence of sexual intercourse with a child outside Australia, and using a carriage service to solicit child abuse material.
Further investigations by AFP officers discovered the man had sent money to people based in Thailand and the Philippines to facilitate the sexual abuse of children. Investigators also identified people in the Philippines suspected of being involved in the abuse of children. The AFP’s International Command in the Philippines engaged Philippine authorities and referred intelligence to the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Centre (PICACC), of which the AFP is a partner agency.
On 10 February 2021, the Philippine National Police Women and Children’s Protection Centre Mindanao Field Unit executed a search warrant at Labason, Zamboanga del Norte, on the island of Mindanao.
As a result of the operation, seven children, aged between 3 and 14, were rescued from further online sexual exploitation and one woman arrested. The woman remains before the court in the Philippines.
As a result of intelligence from the arrest of the woman in the Philippines, the NCA in the United Kingdom commenced an investigation into a UK national identified as allegedly making payments to the same woman.
A search warrant was executed in Bracknell in the United Kingdom on 1 September 2021, where a number of devices were seized and a 51-year-old man arrested.
AFP Detective Superintendent Jayne Crossling said the operation showed how the AFP works with partners in Australia and overseas to target those abusing children.
“The AFP is working around-the-clock with our international and domestic law enforcement partners to bring to justice those who seek to do harm to children,” she said.
“Advances in technology now mean it takes multiple law enforcement agencies working together to break networks that share this material and keep children safe. The AFP will never relinquish this duty.”
AFP Detective Superintendent Andrew Perkins, Senior Officer Manila, said the AFP’s International Command collaborated closely with Philippine authorities and the NCA through the PICACC.
“The PICACC is key to enabling increased collaboration between law enforcement to combat child exploitation and remove victims from harm,” he said.
ABF Acting Commander Operations QLD, Amanda Coppleman, said the ABF would not waiver in its commitment to stopping this kind of abhorrent activity.
“We are dedicated to working alongside partner law enforcement agencies to protect vulnerable individuals on both a domestic and international level,” Commander Coppleman said.
“Protecting children from harm is and will always be important to the ABF. We will continue to disrupt the circulation of child abuse material and bring those who illegally facilitate the abuse of children to justice.”
Chief of the Philippine National Police Women and Children Protection Centre, Police Brigadier General Alesandro Abella said, “This outcome highlights the close partnership between the Philippine National Police and the Australian Federal Police and our shared commitment in protecting children and arresting and prosecuting child sex offenders, irrespective of their location.”
Steve Cobbold, from the NCA’s International Liaison Network, said: “This is a great example of international collaboration to combat the scourge of online child sexual exploitation and abuse.
“By working with our partners in the AFP and the Philippines National Police, we have helped bring a perpetrator to justice and opened up investigations into his alleged accomplices. We will stop at nothing to protect children from this kind of abuse, and will never give up our pursuit of offenders who commit these horrific crimes.”
The PICACC has undertaken 147 operations that have resulted in the rescue of 445 victims since its inception in February 2019. Ninety-three suspects/facilitators have been charged and 18 offenders have been convicted. Australian-based investigations led to the arrest/charge of 40 suspects and the removal of 159 children from harm.