A nationwide criminal investigation has led to 44 Australian men facing 350 charges of possessing child exploitation material, Australian Federal Police said on Friday.
Operation Molto has removed 16 children from harm after identifying alleged offenders in every Australian state and the ACT—home to the country’s capital.
The accused ranged in age from 19-57 and worked in occupations such as construction, transport, hospitality, and law enforcement. The police did not identify them or say when they had been arrested.
Some of the offenders are also accused of producing their own child abuse material. They were also in possession of material that was produced by a man caught by the AFP in 2015 under Operation Nero, which took down an international organised paedophile syndicate. The material was classified as the most abhorrent produced.
The year-long operation was sparked by a law enforcement report showing thousands of offenders were using a cloud storage platform to share abhorrent child abuse material online.
Six children who were removed from harm in Victoria, one in New South Wales, two children in Queensland, six children in South Australia.
AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw said: “Pixel by pixel, our investigators painstakingly look for clues and never give up and the tools they use give Australian police access to world-leading expertise.
“Viewing, distributing or producing child exploitation material is a crime. Children are not commodities and the AFP and its partner agencies work around-the-clock to identify and prosecute offenders,” he said.
In the past 12 months, the AFP-led Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) has intercepted child abuse material over 250,000 times and helped rescue 134 children from domestic and international rings.
Arrests were made in Redland Bay, Queensland; Fairfield Heights, Blacktown, Rutherford, and Eagle Vale, New South Wales; Hoppers Crossing and Berwick, Victoria; Riverside and New Town, Tasmania; Ingle Farm, South Australia.