Austria says it has uncovered a child pornography network involving more than 2,300 people in 77 countries. People allegedly paid to view videos via the Internet of young children being sexually abused. Stefan Bos reports from Budapest that many of the children are believed to be eastern European.
Speaking in Vienna, Austrian officials described the content on a Russian website they uncovered as "the worst kind of sexual abuse of children."
Chief investigator Harald Gremel said all the children were under the age of 14 and that screams could sometimes be heard. He denied reports that infants were seen in the videos; Austrian officials initially claimed that the ages ranged from "zero to 14."
Gremel said police recorded over 8,000 visits, or "hits," to the Austrian server from about 2,300 computer addresses within just 24 hours. Visitors are said to come from 77 countries, ranging from Iceland to South Africa, and each is said to have paid $89 U.S. to access the site.
The Austrian ministry of interior said the United States tops the list with 600 visitors to the pornographic site, followed by Germany with 400 visitors, while France is said to have 100.
Investigator Gremel told a news conference at least 23 suspects were Austrians from a wide variety of backgrounds.
"Among the suspects we know so far the youngest is 17-years-old," he said. "There are also elderly people among the suspects. "There are pupils, students, unemployed people, pensioners, craftsmen, and a government employee among the suspects."
The investigation into the child pornography network began last July when a man working for a Vienna-based Internet service approached authorities at the interior ministry to say he noticed the pornographic material during a routine check.
An official of the Austrian Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Erich Zwettler, said the investigation has confirmed that many of the abused children are eastern European.
"We established that most material came from eastern Europe and that most children were abused in eastern Europe," he said. "However, there were also cases of children in Southeast Asia, especially in Sri Lanka, Korea and Vietnam," Zwettler adds it is crucial that the international police organization Interpol sets up networks in these countries to better combat the abuse of children.
However, Austria's interior minister, Guenther Platter, has already made clear he does not want to wait until the international community strengthens its efforts against child pornography. He wants to act now to increase the punishment for those found guilty of trafficking in child pornography.
Under current Austrian law people owning child pornography can expect a maximum of two years imprisonment.