WELLINGTON (Reuters) – A New Zealand-led global investigation into online child sexual abuse material identified more than 90,000 accounts, led to the arrest of hundreds of offenders worldwide and safeguarded 146 children, authorities said on Wednesday.
The collection of of online imagery was discovered in late 2019 when a New Zealand-based internet service provider raised the alarm, sparking a two-year long investigation dubbed “Operation H.”
New Zealand’s Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Australian Federal Police, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Britain’s National Crime Agency, Europol and INTERPOL worked together to identify and investigate individuals tied to the accounts.
“Many people who view material of this kind will go on to physically offend against children,” Tim Houston, manager of the digital child exploitation team at DIA and lead investigator for Operation H, said in a statement.
“It is imperative that we are able to bring them to justice before they are able to do more damage.”
About 836 cases were investigated internationally and 146 children safeguarded, the DIA said. Forty-six people were arrested in New Zealand and hundreds more overseas, including in Britain, Canada, Spain and Slovenia.
Britain’s National Crime Agency said many of the 450 people it had arrested were working in positions of trust, including at primary schools and nurseries, law enforcement and medical industries, and some religious officials.
“This is not a victimless crime, every time this material is viewed, that child is revictimised,” said DIA’s Houston.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Karishma Singh and Jane Wardell)