** Images from the operation, including photos of the restrained assets, are available via hightail.**
A Belgian tourist who bankrolled his Australian holiday by selling online child sex abuse material has had his local and offshore assets restrained by an Australian Federal Police-led taskforce.
The man, 26, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced in Downing Centre District Court on Thursday, 15 October, 2020, is the first offender convicted with child exploitation offences to have his assets restrained since AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw set a new aggressive strategy for the Criminal Assets Confiscation Taskforce (CACT).
Under the new direction revealed last month, the AFP-led CACT will now actively determine if the assets of child sex offenders can be confiscated.
Two bank accounts; one in Australia holding about $16,400, and another in Germany holding €8000; plus camera equipment, a drone and scuba diving gear, with a combined estimated worth of AUD$30,000; were restrained by the AFP-led CACT in the Supreme Court of NSW on Thursday, 8 October.
The criminal investigation started in February 2019 when the AFP’s Child Protection Operation team in Sydney received a tip-off from the United States-based National Centre for Missing and Exploitation Children that a man in Australia was uploading child abuse to Snapchat.
The AFP traced the digital trail and discovered the user was advertising a website selling explicit child abuse material on a number of social media platforms, including Tumblr, Snapchat and Instagram.
The investigation revealed the user was the administrator of a website that sold packs of child abuse material videos and images for $US50. Each pack contained dozens of videos obtained online, showing the abuse and exploitation of children across the world.
The user was identified as a Belgian national, who arrived from Thailand to Australia in November 2018. The man, travelling around the country on a three-month holiday, was staying at a Sydney youth hostel when arrested by the AFP in April 2019.
A search warrant was executed in the Sydney suburb of Haymarket on Monday, 8 April, 2019.
The man was arrested and charged with supplying child pornography through a carriage service, using a carriage service to access, transmit, make available, publish, distribute, advertising or promote child abuse material, and deal with the proceeds of crime worth $10,000 or more.
He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a maximum of four years’ jail, with a non-parole period of two and a half years.
The AFP uncovered the man had been selling the material since September 2018 right up until his arrest in April 2019. The proceeds had been funding his lifestyle and round-the-world holidays.
The website, no longer active, was taken down after representations made by the AFP.
AFP investigators identified about $US19,000 in profits from the website and a referral was made to the CACT to start a civil case to retrain his seized assets.
AFP CACT acting national manager Stefan Jerga said the case highlighted the AFP’s determination to unleash maximum damage to the criminal environment.
“If a child sex predator is profiting from – or involves their property in – their criminal activity, their home, vehicle, bank accounts and other assets are at risk of being restrained and confiscated,” Mr Jerga said.
“Our team of investigators, litigators and forensic accountants are highly skilled at what they do and are relentless and determined in their pursuit for justice.
“This investigation shows what can be achieved when our experienced criminal investigators unite with our equally skilled CACT investigators and litigators. Combing the powers in the AFP’s toolkit is helping the AFP stay one step ahead of child sex predators.”
AFP Assistant Commissioner Eastern Command Justine Gough said the assets restrained added another layer to the child protection team’s complex investigation.
“The investigation started with a clue that someone, somewhere, was trying to advertise the exploitation of children for profit,” Assistant Commissioner Gough said.
“Thanks to the tenacious work of the Sydney child protection team, a man has now been convicted for trading in the exploitation of children, and we have taken steps to take back the money he made from this abhorrent venture.
“Every image being shared and bought on this website was of a child being abused. Bringing these offenders from online anonymity to jail time is what drives the AFP to keep children safe.”
The AFP-led CACT brings together the resources and expertise of the AFP, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commissioner, ATO, AUSTRAC, and Australian Border Force. These agencies work together to trace, restrain and ultimately confiscate criminal assets with the funds redirected by the Commonwealth Government to crime prevention, law enforcement and other community initiatives.