(Source: Athens News) After an investigation that lasted more than two years and involved the cooperation of several police forces from around the world, the Cyber Crime Unit of the Greek police has broken the biggest child pornography ring active in the country to date.

Twelve people were arrested last week, among them an Orthodox priest, two doctors and several businessmen, all of whom have been charged with possessing and trafficking hardcore pornographic material on the internet, an offence that could lead to life imprisonment. Seven of them have been imprisoned pending trial after incriminating evidence was found on their computers.

Another 13 people, including a policewoman and an army officer, have been accused of purchasing DVDs containing child pornography material. Police are seeking dozens more suspects. Some 40 arrest warrants have been issued in total.

A senior police source told the Athens News that the investigation was launched in November 2006 following a tipoff by the London Metropolitan Police via Interpol, informing the authorities that a global investigation on the internet had uncovered over 200 websites for “VIP members” with hardcore material involving small children.

The users were trafficking explicit child pornography material that included footage of six-month-old babies with their hands tied behind their backs involved in sexual activities with minors.

Police tracked 137 electronic traces on the internet belonging to over 50 users from across the country, which were later discovered to correspond to 40 suspects as some used more than one electronic address. Those involved had used credit cards to buy, or to attempt to buy, access to child pornography websites.

After a series of raids in Athens, Thessaloniki, Patra and other parts of the country, police confiscated a total of 28 computer hard drives, eight laptops and a large number of DVDs with a capacity of 28,000 gigabytes.

Named and shamed

Athens Court of First Instance prosecutor Eleni Raikou ordered that the suspects’ names be made public, in accordance with legislation for child pornography crimes.

Police said that all of the suspects, such as a 44-year-old Sparta archimandrite, who was taken into custody in Piraeus, are people apparently “above suspicion”.

One of the doctors arrested, a 40-year-old, served as deputy director in a public clinic for disabled children (PIKPA), in Voula, southern Attica. The news of his arrest shocked his colleagues, who told the Athens News he looked like “a perfectly normal person”.

“We were all bitterly disappointed when we heard the news,” said PIKPA employee Stathis Karras. “As one of the highest-ranking doctors, he was responsible for accepting children into the clinic. It never crossed my mind he would be involved in something as twisted as trading child pornography material through the internet. It just shows that you can never be sure about anyone.”

The indicted doctor appeared before the prosecutor on January 30 and denied all charges. He argued that he had only once visited a website three years ago “because he was curious”. However, Cyber Crime Unit police found pornographic material stored on his computer and took him into custody.

All the computers and the material confiscated have been taken to police laboratories as officers from the unit try to establish whether the pornographic material was produced in Greece.

According to the head of the Cyber Crime Unit, Manolis Sfakianakis, this is highly unlikely.

“We are currently running digital tests on the confiscated material to establish where it was produced. Based on past experience, we know that Greece does not produce illicit [such as child-related] pornographic material and since 2007, when the legislation regarding child pornography offenders changed, we have found that fewer and fewer people [in Greece] possess such material.

“Up until 2007, we had to come up with evidence that people were part of an organised network trading child pornography on the internet [in order to secure a prosecutor’s warrant to search suspects’ computers and homes]. Now we have the power to arrest individuals should we find out they are involved in [isolated] offences. The 2007 legislation provides for heavy sentences, including life imprisonment, for those found guilty on charges related to child pornography.”

He added: “Importantly, our cooperation with foreign police forces concerning internet crimes has blossomed. Without it, our efforts would be severely hampered. Working in coordination with colleagues from abroad is essential as material depicting child pornography is circulated all over the world through the internet. This latest case was no different.”

According to the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, over 100,000 images of children being sexually abused have been posted on Greek websites over the past three years, while the Greek authorities have made over 200 related arrests.

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