October 19, 2007
Thais Arrest Canadian Child-Sex Suspect
By AMBIKA AHUJA
BANGKOK, Thailand - A Canadian schoolteacher suspected of sexually abusing boys was arrested in rural Thailand and charged on Friday after an international manhunt that relied on digitally unscrambled photos and tips from the public.
"I think he knew we were coming," said police Col. Paisal Luesomboon, who was in the five-man team that made the arrest in the northeastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima. "He knew that there was an arrest warrant issued and that his face was posted everywhere."
He said Neil acknowledged his name and nationality, but would not say whether he was the man pictured in more than 200 photographs having sex with boys as young as 6 in Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand.
Driven to Bangkok, about 130 miles away, Neil was in handcuffs and had a blue shirt draped over his head as officers led him into national police headquarters. He made no comments to a waiting horde of reporters.
He stayed silent when presented to journalists at the news conference. The shirt was removed from his head, but his eyes were hidden behind a pair of sunglasses.
Several Thai boys had come forward to say that they had been abused by Neil, and police - who had been tracing Neil's network of friends - had expressed confidence he would not escape their dragnet.
Police said that on Thursday night, they traced a phone call made by a 25-year-old Thai man with whom Neil was previously known to be in touch, said Col. Paisal, superintendent of the Tourist Police Division.
They found the Thai man, whom they described as a transvestite, in the northeastern province of Chaiyaphum. He told police he and Neil had rented a house together in neighboring Nakhon Ratchasima province, and on Friday morning the man led the five-man police team there.
Neil acknowledged he was the man police were seeking, police said.
Neil was found after an unusual public appeal by Interpol. The France-based international police agency released reconstructed photos of a man said to be abusing Asian boys in a bid to identify a suspect, receiving hundreds of tips as a result.
"Let all international criminals and fugitives be put on notice that Interpol, its police partners in 186 member countries, the public and the Internet present new and powerful possibilities for hunting them down wherever they might try to hide," Interpol Secretary General Ronald K. Noble said in a statement.
Neil lived in Thailand from 2002 to early 2004, police said.
Thai authorities issued an arrest warrant Thursday for Neil after determining that he may have sexually abused boys in Thailand, in addition to a dozen Cambodian and Vietnamese boys, some as young as 6, whom Interpol suspects he abused.
The Thai arrest warrant was based on the testimony of one boy, who said he was lured to Neil's apartment in Bangkok by a Thai man, said police Maj. Gen. Wimol Powintara.
In that case, Neil was charged with detention of a child under 15 without parental consent, punishable by up to three years in prison; taking a child under 15 from his parents without consent, punishable by five to 20 years; and sexual abuse of a child under 15, punishable by up to 10 years.
Additional charges could lie ahead. The boy was one of three Thai youths, aged 9, 13 and 14 at the time of their abuse, who contacted police Wednesday after seeing Neil's photograph on television. They claimed he had paid them to perform oral sex on him in 2003, Wimol said.
The boys said the suspect showed them pornographic images on his computer at his apartment in Bangkok, and paid them each $16 to $32, he added.
Neil 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. Authorities said cameras at the immigration counter captured his image as he arrived at Bangkok's international airport.
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 German police were able to reconstruct a recognizable image and Interpol circulated those pictures last week.
Before teaching in Asia, Neil had worked as a chaplain in Canada, counseling teens.
Canadian authorities have said they would seek his extradition, but have not yet done so, according to Thai officials. Canada has sex tourism laws allowing prosecution for crimes committed abroad.
"He will have to go to Thai court first" to be prosecuted, said Thai Deputy National Police Chief Wongkot Maneerin.
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