Police uncover biggest ever WhatsApp paedophile ring in Europe
Police have arrested 39 paedophiles from across Europe after smashing the biggest international distribution network of child pornography shared through WhatsApp.
Seventeen suspects come from Spain, six were arrested in Colombia, four in Italy, two in Germany, three in Bolivia, two in Costa Rica, two in Paraguay, one in Chile, one in El Salvador and one in Portugal.
More than 360,000 files were seized, together with documents which gave details of attacks on young children, together with their addresses, up to two decades ago.
Police said the youngsters abused included babies and toddlers up to the age of eight who were subjected to humiliating treatment and excessive brutality.
The major operation was the first joint international action against child porno-graphy in the European Union coordinated through the Action Group on Cybercrime in The Hague. It was initiated by the Technological Research Unit (ITU) of the National Police with the full involvement of Europol and Interpol.
The investigation spanned 18 countries in Europe, Central America and South America. In addition, 96 exclusive paedophile-themed groups have been investigated in the instant messaging service.
A spokesman for the Spanish police said: “Researchers have studied more than 360,000 files involving those arrested in the plot and have located in one of the raids in Lugo, numerous manuscript material containing names, ages and places of encounters with minors, some of them dated 20 years ago. The photographic and video files distributed in these channels are characterised by humi-liating treatment and an excessive brutality on the victims, of ages between zero and eight years.”
The investigation began in June 2016 when police were told about a secret link on the network which alllowed paedophiles to share pictures and videos anonymously via instant messaging.
“Advanced research was able to detect about 96 groups of WhatsApp, as well as 103 distributors located in different countries, of which 17 of them resided in Spain,” said the spokesman.
Raids were carried out at 19 different locations in Europe with mobile phones, laptops, storage devices, cameras and external hard drivers all being seized.
Police say the operation remains open and further arrests are expected.