Nearly 400 children have been rescued and 348 adults arrested following an expansive and “extraordinary” international child pornography investigation, Canadian police announced Thursday.
The three-year project, named Project Spade, began when undercover officers with the Toronto Police Service Child Exploitation service made contact with a Toronto man allegedly sharing “very graphic images” of child sexual abuse in Oct. 2010, Toronto Police Service Chief William Blair said at a press conference on Thursday.
Police said their investigation revealed an entire child movie production and distribution company in Toronto operating via the web site azovfilms.com.
The site was run by 42-year old Brian Way, according to police, and sold and distributed images of child exploitation to people across the world.
Inspector Joanna Beaven-Desjardins, head of Toronto’s Sex Crimes Unit, said they enlisted the help of the United States Postal Inspection Service since many of the videos were being exported to the U.S. and began a joint investigation.
After a seven-month long investigation, officers executed search warrants across the city of Toronto including at the business, located in the city’s West End.
Investigators catalogued hundreds of thousands of images and videos of “horrific sexual acts against very young children, some of the worst they have ever viewed,” Inspector Beaven-Desjardins said at the press conference.
Police seized over 45 terabytes of data from the $4-million business that distributed to over 50 counties including Australia, Spain, Mexico, Sweden and Greece.
As a result of the investigation thus far, 50 people were arrested in Ontario, 58 in the rest of Canada, 76 in the United States, and 164 internationally.
What was most alarming, Inspector Beaven-Desjardins said, was that many of the arrests were of people who worked with or closely interacted with children.
NDJAMENA, Chad — The authorities said Tuesday that they had charged six French citizens with kidnapping after a failed attempt to fly 103 children out of Chad. A charity said the children were orphans from Sudan’s war-battered Darfur region.
Interior Minister Ahmat Bachir said that if they were found guilty, they would face up to 20 years in jail with hard labor. Prisoners in Chad are often put to work for the state.
A judge in the eastern city of Abeche also agreed late Monday to allow prosecution charges of complicity against three French journalists, said Justice Minister Pahimi Padacket Albert.
A seven-person flight crew also would be charged with complicity, he said. The accused are to be flown this week to the capital Ndjamena.
Officials in Chad detained 17 people – nine of them French – after the French charity tried to put the children on a plane last week.
L’Arche de Zoé, or Zoé’s Ark, said it had arranged French host families for the children to save them from possible death in Sudan’s western Darfur region. More than four years of conflict there have left more than 200,000 people dead and 2.5 million displaced – many to eastern Chad.
Unicef’s representative in Chad, Mariam Coulibaly Ndiaye, said officials were interviewing the children Monday to learn more about their origins and whether they were truly orphans.
Chad’s president, Idriss Deby, denounced the action as a “straightforward kidnapping” and promised punishment for those involved. The French authorities also have condemned the charity’s plans.
President Nicolas Sarkozy of France called Deby this weekend to discuss the case, which unfolded as the European Union prepares a peacekeeping force in Chad and the Central African Republic to help refugees along their borders with Darfur. France has led the push for the peacekeepers, and the uproar over the charity’s actions risked complicating efforts to ensure a smooth start for the force, which Chad initially had resisted.
But Chad has assured France that a debacle over a charity’s effort to remove children from the country will not affect plans to deploy the EU peacekeepers.
In France, police searched the charity’s offices as well as the apartment of its founder as part of an inquiry into whether the group broke adoption laws, police officials said. The group initially promised some families that they could adopt – not merely host – children from Darfur, French officials have said.