A giant paedophile ring with a worldwide reach was broken apart during a three-year inquiry which led to the arrests of hundreds of individuals, including clergymen and teachers, and the rescue of nearly 400 children who were at risk, Canadian police have revealed.
In one of the biggest such operations ever seen, investigators uncovered an octopus-like child-porn network centred on a now-shuttered sex-film business in Toronto. Its tentacles extended across Canada, where 108 people have been taken into custody, and to six continents. In the US, 76 people were arrested while others have been rounded up in several European countries.
While the investigation, Project Spade, was led by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), it was pursued with the collaboration of the US Postal Inspection Service and law enforcement agencies in Sweden, Spain, Mexico, Australia, South Africa and Hong Kong, officials said.
While it is not the first such ring to be uncovered, it is the identities of some of those accused of consuming and helping to create the material that will attract attention.
“The arrests included 40 schoolteachers, nine doctors and nurses, 32 people who volunteered with children, six law-enforcement personnel, nine pastors or priests and three foster parents,” said inspector Joanna Beavan-Desjardins.
Accused of being at the ring’s hub is a Toronto resident identified as Brian Way, 42. Police alleged that Mr Way, as the owner of Azov Films, solicited and distributed on a global basis vast volumes of videos featuring underage and usually naked boys, as well as criminal sex acts.
Investigators who raided Azov Films in 2011 found hundreds of thousand of the images featuring “horrific acts of sexual abuse – some of the worst they have seen”, added Ms Beavan-Desjardins, who heads the Toronto police sex crimes unit.
As it unfolded, the investigation triggered 341 arrests around the world and the taking into care of 386 children. Some of those arrested have already pleaded guilty and are behind bars, while others are still before the courts. Mr Way is charged with 24 offences including making, possessing, distributing, exporting and selling the explicit images of boys, said to range in age from toddlers to teenagers.
The Toronto Star newspaper, which said it had been granted exclusive background access to Project Spade, reported that clients of Mr Way in Canada alone included an Ontario ice-hockey coach, a Toronto teacher, a priest, a Scout leader in Quebec and a retired high?school headmaster in Nova Scotia. Mr Way himself is in custody and faces a first preliminary court hearing in December.
The sweep of arrests worldwide began after investigators viewed more than 100 of Azov’s films and cross-referenced online purchases of those titles with people on a customer list found at Mr Way’s premises. His business is alleged to have made $4m in revenues. Customers could visit the home page of a website with a top 10 of the most popular movies and purchase them as if it were Amazon.
The films were made with video clips allegedly sent to Mr Way by collaborators around the world. Films viewed by police included sequences of naked boys shot in Romania, Ukraine and Germany.
“This is a crime which is hidden, and which without this kind of operation we can put to the light,” Spain’s chief inspector Luis Garcia told the Toronto Star. “We can find hands-on abuse, and we could never have known about this in any other way.”
Forty-two people have been investigated in Spain and 19 children rescued.