Riverine Herald

Echuca man faces 610 child abuse charges after global operation

By Ivy Jensen

AN ECHUCA man is one of 16 people in Australia charged as part of a global child abuse investigation.

The 61-year-old is facing 610 state and federal offences, including producing, distributing and possessing child abuse material, after a two-year effort by Australian law enforcement and the United States Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Australian investigators executed 18 search warrants and arrested 16 people on 738 child exploitation charges and removed four Australian children, one of whom was from Victoria, from further harm.

The Echuca man has been remanded in custody to appear in court later this month.

HSI referred investigations into an online website where users paid to access child abuse material to Australian police in 2018.

Officers from state and territory police, working with the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) and the Australian Federal Police’s Joint Anti Child Exploitation Teams, partnered with international law enforcement, including investigators from the HSI office in Phoenix, Arizona, who initiated the investigation into an illicit online marketplace.

With the help of the HSI Cyber Crimes Centre, the HSI EL Paso Forensics Program, HSI International Operations, HSI Forced Child Labor Unit, INTERPOL and EUROPOL, information on registered users of the illicit marketplace was disseminated to multiple states in the US and to international partners around the world, including Australian law enforcement.

The ACCCE-facilitated Australian response, Operation Walwa, captures the collective effort of the AFP, state and territory police and Joint Anti Child Exploitation Teams (JACETs).

AFP Assistant Commissioner ACCCE and Child Protection Lesa Gale said the results of Operation Walwa were a timely reminder of the risks associated with children being online.

“This has been a long-running joint effort by law enforcement across Australia and we’re happy to see the results that can be achieved when resources are used together, particular in the current online environment,” Asst Comm. Gale said.

HSI Australia Attaché Adam Parks said the arrests came at a critical time.

“More so than ever, children are increasingly online for their schooling, to socialize with their friends and family, and to play games,” Attaché Parks said. 

“Let this be a warning that law enforcement is undeterred by COVID-19 and remains on-duty to keep our children safe in Australia, the US and online.”

Victoria Police JACET manager Detective Acting Inspector Karen Bennett described the considerable effects these crimes had on children, their families and the wider community.

“These crimes see people using significant established networks to share child abuse material and take advantage of vulnerable children. They have devastating impacts for victims and the wider community,” Det. Acting Inspector Bennett said.

“Victoria Police will continue working closely with partner agencies to address this considerable issue both in Australia and overseas.

“We will continue to develop and employ various investigative techniques which allow us to target people actively grooming and attempting to procure children, and accessing child abuse material.”

Anyone who has any information about people involved in possessing or sharing child exploitation material are urged to call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.