Thai police arrest internet paedophile suspect

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The Independent Online

The Canadian teacher who became the world's most wanted paedophile suspect was arrested in north-eastern Thailand today.

"Bingo! We've got him," police Maj Gen Wimol Powintara announced.

Christopher Neil, 32, was arrested in the Nakhon Ratchasima province and was expected to be brought to the capital Bangkok later today, Wimol said.

Wimol would not reveal how Neil was arrested, saying a press conference would be held in Bangkok later today.

Shortly before the arrest, Wimol said police had rushed to the province early today after receiving what they believed to be credible information that Neil had fled to the area.

Residents said they had spotted the Canadian near the home of a Thai man who police say had helped Neil to meet young boys in the past, Wimol said.

Thai authorities issued an arrest warrant yesterday for Neil after determining that he may have sexually abused boys in Thailand, in addition to the dozen Cambodian and Vietnamese boys, some as young as six, whom Interpol suspects he abused.

At Thailand's request, Interpol also issued an international wanted persons notice for Neil. The so-called "Red Notice" from the France-based international police agency will be circulated worldwide requesting the subject's arrest so he can be extradited.

Neil's photograph has been plastered across Thai newspapers and the television news for days, prompting numerous calls about suspected sightings. But police were focusing on the sighting in the north east.

Neil lived in Thailand from 2002 to early 2004, police said.

The Canadian has taught at various schools in Thailand, South Korea and Vietnam since at least 2000.

He suddenly left his most recent teaching job in South Korea last week on a one-way ticket for Thailand as investigators closed in on his identity. Cameras at the immigration counter captured his image as he arrived at Bangkok's international airport.

The Thai arrest warrant is based on the testimony of one boy, who said he was lured to Neil's apartment in Bangkok by a Thai man, Wimol said Thursday.

The boy was one of three Thai youths, aged nine, 13 and 14 at the time, who contacted police after seeing Neil's photograph on television. They claimed he had paid them to perform a sex act on him in 2003, Wimol said earlier, adding that the Canadian allegedly also had sex with at least one other underage male.

The boys said the suspect showed them pornographic images on his computer at his apartment in Bangkok, and paid them each £8-£16, Wimol said.

"We appeal to the public and the media to help us look out for this man," he said.

Police said yesterday that one of the focuses of their search was the town of Pattaya - a popular seaside resort about 70 miles south east of Bangkok known for its beaches, thriving sex industry and high crime rate.

The hunt for Neil began three years ago when German police discovered about 200 online photographs of a man sexually abusing children. His face was digitally obscured, but police were able to reconstruct a recognisable image and Interpol circulated those images last week.

The suspect was identified with the help of hundreds of tips from people who responded to an appeal by Interpol for public assistance.

Before teaching in Asia, Neil had worked as a chaplain in Canada, counselling teenagers.

Canadian authorities have said they will seek his extradition, as the country has sex tourism laws allowing prosecution for crimes committed abroad.