Child porn videos sold from Russia in 'National Geographic' boxes

 

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The Independent Online

When Russian police searched Vsevolod Solntsev-Elbe's apartment in December, they found videos shrink-wrapped in boxes for National Geographic nature films, with pictures of rhinos, giraffes and pandas. When they watched the tapes, they first saw nature documentaries. But then a logo flashed on the screen followed by the feature film: Russian children having sex.

When Russian police searched Vsevolod Solntsev-Elbe's apartment in December, they found videos shrink-wrapped in boxes for National Geographic nature films, with pictures of rhinos, giraffes and pandas. When they watched the tapes, they first saw nature documentaries. But then a logo flashed on the screen followed by the feature film: Russian children having sex.

Police also found Mr Solntsev-Elbe's mailing list. One of the names on it was Glenn Martikean, a 44-year-old American from northern Indiana. E-mails showed that he was coming to Moscow.

Yesterday, the US authorities announced the arrest of four American citizens for involvement in an international child-porn ring called Blue Orchid.

The arrests came after a Russian investigation. An undercover policeman met Mr Martikean, posing as a pimp. Mr Martikean told him that he wanted to have sex with little boys. When a boy went into Mr Martikean's hotel room, police were listening, waiting. "As soon as we heard him say 'please get undressed', police burst in and took the boy out of the room," Eduard Lapatik, head of Moscow's criminal search unit that handles sex said.

While he was in Moscow, US agents searched Mr Martikean's home in Portage, Indiana. They found a box labelled "Glenn's stuff", with "approximately 280 printed-out images depicting pre-pubescent boys, approximate age range from 8 to 12, engaging in sexual activity with one another" according to a US affidavit for his arrest.

Under Russian law, Mr Martikean had committed no crime in that Moscow hotel room because, since 1996, when parliament voted to lower the age of consent, it has been legal for adults in Russia to have sex with children from the age of 14.

But Mr Lapatik would get his man anyway, even if Russian law would have nothing to do with it. Last Friday, as a result of the Moscow police investigation, Mr Martikean was indicted in Indiana on six federal counts of trading in pornography and travelling with the intent of having sex with minors, including a charge dating as far back as 1986.

US agents have told the court they now believe Mr Martikean has been an active paedophile for years, preying on children for sex. They have identified at least five of his alleged victims in the US.

Without the Russians, Mr Martikean might never have been caught. But his case also shows how much more difficult it is to protect children under Russian law than it is in the West. US law enforcement officials say Russia is now probably the world's leading exporter of photographs and videos of children having sex.

Not only does Russia have an unusually low age of consent, it also has no law against the possession or procurement of child pornography, which is considered a minor, victimless crime, punishable by a maximum of two years in prison.

Mr Solntsev-Elbe's Blue Orchid ring was the third major group of internet child-pornography traffickers that Mr Lapatik's team uncovered last year with clients around the world. Mailing lists obtained by Russian police from the three rings have led to hundreds of leads in the US and Europe. Many of these clients face jail sentences.

Not so the Russian ringleaders. Most have either not been charged with any crime at all, or have served sentences lasting months for offences that would carry heavy terms of imprisonment in the West.

So far there has been little public outcry in response to Russia's explosion of paedophilia and child pornography rings. It has had scant attention in the Russian media, although a television documentary on the subject is to air this week.

In parliament, there is little sign of debate on the laws. According to Russia's annual "State Report on Children's Wellbeing", the number of criminal cases of adults having sex with minors fell from 542 in 1997, when a minor was defined as someone under 16, to 194 cases in 1999, when a minor was defined as someone 13 or younger.

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