Credit Card Trail Leads to Child Porn Arrests

By Alicia Fraerman
IPS [Spain]
January 18, 2006

MADRID, Jan 18 (IPS) - The arrests in Spain of 33 people, including a Catholic priest, for allegedly purchasing and distributing child pornography over the Internet has highlighted the need to step up joint international efforts to combat this crime.

The 33 suspects are believed to have used credit cards to acquire child pornography from websites in Belarus and the U.S. state of Florida.

Miguel Angel Gisbert, vice president of the non-governmental organisation Infancia Sin Fronteras (Children Without Borders), told IPS that the bulk of material used for websites like these are photographs and videos shot in developing countries.

He argued the need for international laws to fight child pornography, which all governments should be obliged to enforce.

"If there are international laws to combat the illegal weapons trade, then there is even more reason for laws to stop the trafficking in children, the abuse of children, and the trafficking of images of this abuse, whether on the Internet or by any other means," he added.

Jesus Arcas Santiago, president of the NGO Imagenes Solidarias (Images of Solidarity), expressed a similar view in a conversation with IPS: "There need to be tougher laws, both national and international, to fight these crimes."

Imagenes Solidarias distributes the work of photographers who document the plight of children in developing countries, as a means of raising awareness amongst the Spanish public.

Arcas Santiago stressed that his group's efforts are "exactly the opposite" of the activities of child pornographers, "since we create and distribute, free of charge, images that help to protect the rights of boys and girls in the Third World."

The Spanish authorities announced Wednesday that the police had arrested 33 individuals last week on charges of acquiring and distributing child pornography. The arrests were made in 11 of the 17 autonomous communities into which Spain is divided.

The suspects now in custody include teachers, doctors, business executives, bankers, sports trainers, pensioners, and even a Catholic parish priest from Tarragona, a city in the northern Spanish community of Catalonia.

The Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church of Spain refused to comment on the case when contacted by IPS.

The arrests resulted from an investigation launched in mid-2005 after the Spanish police were alerted by the France-based international police agency Interpol, which in turn had been tipped off by the U.S. authorities.

The Spanish police underscored that the information provided by the U.S. Customs Service and Treasury Department, through a specialised cybercrime unit, were crucial in tracking down the suspects.

Enrique Rodriguez, who headed up the investigation, said that working in coordination with the U.S. authorities made it possible to determine that payments made by credit card through financial institutions in the United States were eventually channelled to Belarus, the source of the pornographic images in this case.

Spanish Interior Minister Juan Antonio Alonso declared Wednesday that they will continue to engage in joint investigations like these, with greater human and material resources allocated for this purpose, because it is a matter of "defending the future."

By following the trail of the credit card payments, the authorities were not only able to identify the individuals who operated the websites in the United States and Belarus, but also their "customers" in Spain, who could now be charged with corruption of minors and contributing to the distribution of child pornography on the Internet.

According to police sources, most of the photographs are of children from Eastern European countries, and include such horrifying content as actual scenes of minors being raped.

Spanish Security Secretary Antonio Camacho reported Wednesday that the police operation is "practically closed," which means the case will now be handed over to the justice system.

Over the coming days, the authorities will release the names of the accused and announce the charges they will be facing.

Maria Rodriguez, who works with a number of children's rights NGOs, believes that the business executives arrested should be fired from their respective companies, the teachers involved should dismissed by their schools, and the priest should be excommunicated by the Catholic Church.

"All of this in addition to the sentences passed down by the judge, of course," she said.

Rodriguez recalled a past case in which a priest charged with paedophilia in the autonomous community of Extremadura was expelled from the Catholic Church but sentenced to no specific punishment, on the grounds that this was a matter for "divine justice".

The Catholic Church also attempted to use this argument in the case of priest Jose Martin de la Pena, who was eventually sentenced to 10 years in prison for the repeated sexual abuse of an underage girl over the course of a decade, beginning when she was just three years old.

Meanwhile, David Rueda, a 25-year-old city councillor responsible for youth-related issues in the northeastern Spanish municipality of Lerida, was arrested on child pornography charges in 2003, fired from his post, and sentenced to a year of psychological counselling. An initial sentence of four months in prison was overturned on the grounds of mental illness.

Rueda was arrested along with 17 other individuals as part of another international police operation that led to the dismantling of a child pornography ring. (END/2006)

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