German police yesterday said they had shut down “one of the biggest darknet child pornography platforms in the world” and arrested four of its members in a series of raids in the middle of last month.
The platform, named “Boystown,” had existed since 2019, counted more than 400,000 members and was “set up for the worldwide exchange of child pornography, in particular images of the abuse of boys,” federal police said in a statement.
The darknet forum allowed users to communicate with others and share graphic image and video content that included “serious sexual abuse of toddlers,” the statement said.
Three men were arrested in seven raids in Germany, while another German suspect was detained in Paraguay at the request of German authorities.
The suspect in Paraguay’s Concepcion region is to be extradited back to Germany on the basis of an international arrest warrant issued by a court in Frankfurt.
The three main suspects, aged 40, 49 and 58, are accused of having managed the platform as administrators, providing technical support and advice to members on how to avoid being discovered by the authorities.
A fourth suspect, a 64-year-old man from Hamburg, was “one of the platform’s most active users,” having posted “more than 3,500” times on the platform since signing up to it in 2019, police said.
Investigators said that the months-long, German-instigated operation had been coordinated by Europol and supported by law enforcement in the Netherlands, Sweden, the US and Canada.
Led by federal police and state prosecutors in Frankfurt, a total of seven raids were carried out in the German regions of North-Rhine Westphalia and Bavaria, and the city of Hamburg.
“Boystown” and other chat platforms were taken offline following the raids.
Hesse Minister of Justice Eva Kuehne-Hoermann hailed what she said was “a fantastic success in the fight against sexual violence against children” for prosecutors in Frankfurt.
“The investigators have shown once again that law enforcement works in the darknet and that criminals cannot feel safe there,” she said.
Darknet sites are invisible to most Internet users and can only be accessed by using encryption technology.
They have repeatedly been used by criminals to trade drugs, weapons and child pornography.
In 2019, a court in Hesse convicted four men of founding and running a darknet child pornography forum.
The forum, which had about 110,000 members, ran for about six months before being discovered and shut down in police raids in June 2017.
The defendants were found guilty of possessing and publishing child pornography, and were handed sentences ranging from three years and 10 months to nine years and nine months.
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