October 20, 2007

Brother of Accused Pedophile Nabbed After Manhunt Says He’s Glad He’s in Custody

By Greg Joyce And Steve Mertl, THE CANADIAN PRESS

MAPLE RIDGE, B.C. - The younger brother of accused Canadian pedophile Christopher Neil says he's relieved his brother is in custody and renewed calls to see him returned to Canada to face any possible charges here.

Matthew Neil told reporters gathered outside his basement apartment Friday that he hasn't spoken to his brother since he was arrested and paraded before reporters in Bangkok.

Neil said his family is "relieved and we want to see this move forward to the next phase of the event.

"I would like to see him come back to Canada but I understand that it's an international incident and I understand the need for multinational involvement."

Christopher Neil faces charges in Thailand of detaining and having sex with boys under 15, which carry prison sentences of up to 20 years.

Early in the day, B.C.'s attorney general said police in the province are looking into complaints about Neil related to time he spent as a substitute teacher in the Vancouver area.

Oppal said he had conversations with Interpol last week.

"The RCMP had received complaints here and so obviously we have an interest in what happens to him (Neil) in Thailand," said Oppal.

"The Criminal Justice Branch will determine whether or not charges will be laid but I can safely say that that's the direction in which we're now moving."

But later in the day, the government issued a "clarification" directly contradicting the minister and Oppal admitted he got it wrong.

"There is an investigation, it's going on, a report has been sent to Crown counsel," Oppal said.

"The police have a lot of tips, but there are no complaints."

Oppal said the investigation is complex and involves many jurisdications. He said the confusion arose because authorities in British Columbia can prosecute Neil in this country based on allegations in another.

RCMP spokeswoman Const. Annie Linteau said Neil is "a person of interest" and said the force has "received some tips" about him in British Columbia.

In a statement e-mailed earlier to The Canadian Press and identifying itself as coming from the Neils, the family said they understand "mistakes have been made but he is still a member of our family.

"We will do everything we can to support him during this troubling time in his life. We are all in agreement that he should be extradited to Canada to face these allegations."

The statement ends with a plea to respect the family's privacy.

Neil became the subject of an intense international manhunt after police identified him from Internet photos of a man allegedly abusing young Asian boys.

The man's features were distorted but German police technicians managed to recreate a likeness.

Neil who once studied for the priesthood and taught briefly in Roman Catholic schools in British Columbia, was also a chaplain and counsellor at military cadet youth camps in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia.

Staff Sgt. Rick Greenwood of the National Child Exploitation Co-ordination Centre in Ottawa said police must consider a lot of factors before they decide if Neil would face charges here.

"The investigation will isolate if there are allegations back here in Canada," said Greenwood, the centre's operations manager.

Oppal said Thai authorities have first call on prosecuting Neil, who was charged in Bangkok on Friday with several counts involving boys under the age of 15.

"We would probably in due course, depending on what the Criminal Justice Branch decides here, want him extradited," said Oppal.

"But it's really premature to say anything at this stage because we don't know what process will take place in Thailand."

British Columbia would also co-ordinate with other provinces if complaints against Neil surface there, Oppal said.

Canada also has a so-called sex-tourism law allowing him to be prosecuted in Canada for abuse committed abroad.

Greenwood said under the Extradition Act, Neil has to know before he's extradited to Canada what charges he would face here.

"That's the challenge for us,"' said Greenwood. "Once we can put all that information together, then the right decisions will be made."

Canadian authorities would also like to speak with Neil's alleged victims in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, he added.

"Whether the victims are in those or other countries, a proper investigation would be that we would want to interview them, which we do," said Greenwood.

The work to identify and nab Neil began after some 200 images of child abuse surfaced on the Internet three years ago.

When his features were unscrambled, Interpol issued a public appeal to identify him. Neil left South Korea where he had been teaching last week and flew to Thailand.

Thai authorities issued an arrest warrant for Neil on Thursday after determining that he may have sexually abused boys in Thailand, in addition to accusations he abused a dozen Cambodian and Vietnamese boys, some as young as six.

"Christopher Paul Neil will be prosecuted in Thailand first," Col. Apichart Suribunya, in charge of Neil's arrest, told The Canadian Press in an interview from Bangkok.

"Then I don't know what will happen."

He said Vietnam or Cambodia might make an official request for extradition.

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.

The boy was one of three Thai youths, aged nine to 14 at the time, who claimed he had paid them to perform oral sex on him in 2003.

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. Cameras at the immigration counter captured his image as he arrived at Bangkok's international airport.

Matthew Neil said that before his brother was arrested, he considered flying to Thailand himself to find him.

Instead, he saw Christopher, looking tired and wearing sunglasses, on the TV news.

The Neil family remains in shock after days of intense public and police scrutiny, he said.

"You see lots of these stories on the news but you never think you're going to be part of it."

(With files from Merita Ilo in Toronto)