Central Coast Man Jailed After International Child Abuse Ring Busted

A Central Coast man has been jailed after international law enforcement efforts to bust a sophisticated online child abuse ring.

Operation Bakis was an Australian Federal Police-led joint investigation with state and territory police that had its origins in the murder of two FBI agents in Florida in 2021.

The AFP-coordinated investigation began in 2022 after the Federal Bureau of Investigation passed intelligence about Australian members of a peer-to-peer network allegedly sharing child abuse material on the dark web to the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation.

Nineteen Australian men – aged between 32 and 81 – were charged with a total of 138 offences as a result of the operation.

Two have been convicted including a call centre operator from the Central Coast, who was sentenced last month to five years behind bars after pleading guilty to possessing 5 terabytes of child abuse material. The other alleged offenders remain before the courts.

Members of the network allegedly used software to anonymously share files, chat on message boards, access websites, search for and distribute images and videos of child abuse material and allegedly used encryption and other methods to avoid detection.

AFP Commander Helen Schneider said many of the accused worked in information and communications technology (ICT) roles and had a high degree of technical competency which made them difficult to find.

“Criminals using encryption and the dark web are a challenge for law enforcement, but Operation Bakis shows that when we work together we can bring alleged offenders before the courts,” she said. 

A number are also alleged to have produced their own child abuse material and had been carrying out the offences for over a decade.

Thirteen Australian children have been removed from harm and Commander Schneider said that some of the child victims knew the alleged offenders.

“We will allege that some of the children were known to the men who were arrested,” she said.

“While we have charged nineteen people, the AFP and our partners do not rule out further arrests in relation to this matter,” Commander Schneider said.

Nitiana Mann, legal attaché for the FBI revealed the complexity and magnitude of the cross-border investigation.

“350 domestic leads were sent by the FBI, 211 international leads were assigned to our partner countries, 303 FBI investigations were open, 79 arrests, 65 indictments and 43 convictions as a result of this operation,” Ms Mann said.

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