Interpol turns to web users in paedophile hunt

In a first, Interpol appealed on Monday for public help to identify a suspected paedophile who was shown in photos posted on the internet sexually abusing young boys in Vietnam and Cambodia.

The international police organisation said German specialists succeeded in producing identifiable images of the man from the original pictures, where his face had been digitally blurred. But the man’s identity and nationality remain unknown, prompting Interpol’s worldwide appeal.

“For years, images of this man sexually abusing children have been circulating on the internet. We have tried all other means to identify and to bring him to justice, but we are now convinced that without the public’s help this sexual predator could continue to rape and sexually abuse young children whose ages appear to range from six to early teens,” Interpol’s secretary general, Ronald K Noble, said in a statement.

“We have very good reason to believe that he travels the world in order to sexually abuse and exploit vulnerable children,” Noble added.

Interpol, which is headquartered in Lyon in south-east France, posted four reconstructed photos of the man on its website, along with an original image where his face is a totally blurred whirl.

The reconstructed photos show a white man who looks in his 30s, with uncombed short brown hair.
One photo shows him wearing glasses; in another he is smiling.

Anders Persson, a Swedish police officer seconded to Interpol’s human-trafficking unit who oversees its database of images of child abuse, said releasing the photos sends “a quite clear message” to criminals that they can be identified through web postings.

He declined to detail how specialists unblurred the photos.

“Techniques are always developing. What is impossible today is possible tomorrow,” he said. “There were several attempts to clear the face ... We are sure that you can’t get better pictures and the people in his neighbourhood—family friends, colleagues, whatever - they will recognise him.”

Interpol said 12 different young boys appeared in about 200 original photographs. One picture showed the name of a hotel in Vietnam, but police checks of the guest register turned up no clues, Persson said in a telephone interview. Cambodian police recognised locations in other photos.

The photos must date from before December 2004, when they were found on the internet, and some were digitally stamped as having been taken in 2002 and 2003, said Persson. The 12 boys have not been located, he added.

Interpol had already circulated photos of the man to police around the world, but failed to identify him.

Persson said he personally had opposed making the photos public because it demonstrated to criminals that police can now unblur pictures. But that consideration and the risk that the man could face public humiliation or even violence now that he is recognisable were outweighed by the desire to protect other children from abuse.

“It was a long discussion,” Persson said. “We can’t just sit here and do nothing. We have exhausted all possibilities within police work to find this man ... This was the last step.”

The man has distinguishing marks on his body that would be enable police to be sure that he is the man in the photographs if he is eventually identified, Persson said. He did not say what these marks were, but added they would be “the final proof if he is the right guy or not”.

Interpol asked people who recognise the man or who have other information to contact police or the Interpol bureau in their country. It urged them not to take any direct action themselves.—Sapa-AP

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