October 20, 2007

‘Disguised’ Paedophile Captured in Thailand

By Rosalind Russellin Bangkok

An international manhunt for a suspected paedophile ended in a small house in rural Thailand yesterday with the arrest of Christopher Neil, 32, a Canadian teacher accused of sexually abusing young Asian boys in 200 online images.

Thai police said they had enough evidence to charge Mr Neil, who faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted, and said they would also consider any eventual extradition request from Canada.

His capture followed a worldwide appeal by Interpol after computer experts unmasked the digitally disguised face of a man seen raping boys in Vietnam and Cambodia in a graphic series of internet photographs dating back several years.

Handcuffed, unshaven, and dressed in a grubby white T-shirt, tracksuit bottoms and sunglasses, Mr Neil was paraded at a press conference in Bangkok just hours after his arrest. His foot was cut as he was led through a scrum of reporters, before being made to sit for photographs in front of a phalanx of Thai police officers. He sat impassively, did not remove his glasses and did not respond to questions.

"He has said nothing. He has only accepted that his name is Christopher Paul Neil," a Thai police spokesman, Pongsapat Pongcharoen, said.

Mr Neil walked out on his job as a teacher in a South Korean school last week when his face was plastered across the global media. He flew on a one-way ticket to Thailand, where he had lived in 2003, and spent a week on the run with a 25-year-old Thai transvestite whom police suspect of supplying him with young boys during his earlier time in the country.

Thai courts issued an arrest warrant on Thursday after three teenaged boys told police Mr Neil had molested them when he lived in Bangkok. The boys said Mr Neil showed them pornographic images on his computer at his apartment and paid them for oral sex.

A series of tip-offs and a signal from the transvestite's mobile phone led officers to the house near the town of Nakhon Ratchasima, 150 miles north-east.

"We went to the house this morning," Paisal Luesomboon, the arresting officer, said. "He did not seem surprised. He said he knew there was an arrest warrant. But he was quiet. He has not spoken."

The hunt for Mr Neil began three years ago in Germany, when anti- child abuse officers found internet images of a man molesting and raping boys, some thought to be as young as six.

Paedophiles are known to post images of themselves abusing children on the internet as a "calling card" to gain access to child pornography networks.

Clues in the photographs helped police identify locations in Vietnam and Cambodia, but the man's face had been hidden behind a digital swirl. Only when computer experts managed to unscramble the image was Interpol able to issue the worldwide appeal for the suspect's identity and whereabouts.

"The irony that we used the internet to find this suspect is not lost on us," the Interpol case officer, Mick Moran, said.

(c) 2007 Independent, The; London (UK). Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.