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Child porn probe finds seven cases of abuse

Police are investigating 1,100 suspects whose names were provided by the US

(swissinfo.ch)

Swiss police say a nationwide investigation into child pornographers has so far revealed seven cases of suspected sexual abuse against children.

The cases came to light during questioning of 822 suspects, who were identified as part of a massive police operation in late September.

Police said they were working through a list of 1,100 suspects whose names were provided by the United States authorities.

Those under investigation were traced because they allegedly used their credit cards to subscribe to US-based child pornography web sites.

Their names appeared on the client list of a US-based Internet company called Landslide Productions, which provided users with access to sites such as "Cyber Lolita" and "Child Rape".

In more than half of the 822 cases investigated by the Swiss authorities, illegal pornographic material was seized.

Fraught with difficulties

The Federal Police Office director Jean-Luc Vez told swissinfo that overall he thought the investigation, dubbed "Operation Genesis", had been a success.

"It is the first time Switzerland has been able to conduct such a big operation," he said.

"It's new proof that the fight against Internet crime is only possible with strong international collaboration, and with the cantons and the Swiss confederation working together."

But he admitted that there had been difficulties in obtaining details on credit card holders from the banks, and co-ordinating investigations between the cantons had been complicated.

He said that in some cantons there had been a lack of qualified personnel able to deal with the complexities required by the investigation, and the gathering of evidence had been time consuming.

"It was a case of learning on the job," he said. "We are now much better placed for similar investigations in the future."

Foot-dragging

Vez also dismissed criticism that Switzerland had failed to act quickly enough since first receiving information in August 2001.

He said the initial investigation in the US had taken three years and Switzerland was one of only nine countries that had so far been able to act on the information supplied by the US authorities.

But Raymond Paroz, of the organisation Marche Blanche, which lobbies for tougher legislation, maintains the response could have been quicker.

"Had this been a case of terrorism or military secrets, action would have taken place immediately," he told swissinfo.

"There has been complacency and a lack of will from the Swiss authorities."

Monitoring unit

Paroz also criticised the decision to close a monitoring unit in December 1999 because of lack of funds.

"It didn't make sense," he said. "The office was inundated with denunciations, but they only had two people working part time.

"Logic requires that if you have so much work, you employ more people and find the funds."

The Federal Police Office is planning to launch a new unit by the beginning of next year to fight crimes committed on the Internet.

It will monitor and analyse websites and work with criminal authorities abroad to track down Internet offenders. But the power to prosecute will remain with the cantons.

The new office, which will be staffed by nine people, falls far short of the demands made by Marche Blanche. It wants an agency devoted exclusively to fighting paedophile crime.

"It should be based in Bern and be responsible for coordinating activity throughout the country," said Paroz. "And it should have people across the country working on the ground."

Continuing investigations

Police last month raided numerous buildings as part of the probe, which was coordinated as an international operation to tackle child pornography on the Internet.

Police are now sifting through data stored on 1,147 computers, 16,077 database software such as CD-Roms and diskettes, 4,879 videos and 10,219 publications - images or literature.

swissinfo, Jonathan Summerton

Key facts

Seven cases of suspected sexual abuse against children have come to light during a probe into child porn on the Internet.
Police said they were working through a list of 1,100 suspects whose names were provided by the US.
Those under investigation were traced because they allegedly used their credit cards to subscribe to US-based child porn web sites.

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