Police have cracked what is believed to be South Africa’s biggest child pornography ring – with links to Canada, the UK, the US, western Europe and Australasia – after the arrest of six people.
A school principal (who is also an award-winning author), two teachers, a lawyer, a dermatologist and businessmen from across the country were arrested in a multi-pronged operation coinciding with arrests overseas.
Police are investigating a further 26 people and more arrests are imminent.
Laid bare in police investigations is the alleged sordid sexual exploitation of what is believed to be hundreds of children.
In an operation experienced detectives described as “sickening”, children as young as five are believed to have been groomed to have sex with each other and adults.
The images are believed to have been generated overseas and the police, with the help of their international counterparts, are now investigating whether any children from South Africa are involved in the ring’s operations.
Some of the details of the alleged pornography are too graphic to publish, with many of the children suffering extreme forms of violence. Police overseas are investigating whether any of the children were murdered. Those close to the investigation told The Times that South African police were tipped off by a foreign policing agency, through Interpol, after dozens of computers were seized in raids. International police discovered the addresses of hundreds of alleged paedophiles from around the world.
Experienced local officers from various units were last week pulled off their cases to form a high-profile task team.
Overseen by national detective head Lieutenant-General Vinesh Munoo, the team – including the Gauteng family violence, child protection and sexual offences unit and cybercrime investigators – has secured warrants to search homes, schools, legal and medical practices and businesses.
On Thursday, police arrested the principal of an elite private primary school in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga; a teacher in Florida, west of Johannesburg, a teacher in Carletonville, a Pretoria dermatologist; and a senior legal officer in North West.
In follow-up raids at the weekend, officers stormed dozens of homes in KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Free State, seizing computers, DVDs, books, magazines, computer memory sticks, cameras, video cameras and other digital recording devices.
A source with insight into the investigation said the first to be arrested was the school principal, who was arrested at his White River home.
Pupils attending the prestigious English school are from business, game farm, legal and aviation families. In a recent letter from the school, parents are informed that the principal has been dismissed with immediate effect.
“The agreement follows his arrest for allegedly being in possession of child pornography,” it says.
The 43-year-old man – who was released on R1000 bail after appearing in court – was found in possession of DVDs containing alleged child pornography images.
Electronic devices including laptops belonging to the man, who won a national literature prize for a murder mystery novel involving a 16-year-old boy, were seized.
A Nelspruit court official said the man was due to appear in court again in September on charges of possession of child porn.
Attorney Coert Jordaan, representing the headmaster, said: “I will not grace you with a comment.”
A lawyer with knowledge of the case said the police had “a good case with solid evidence . it is going to be difficult for these guys to get away . even with the claim that they downloaded the child pornography by accident.”
A policeman said that several of those arrested had been found with images of children being abused. Police are investigating what has become of these children.
“They appear to be linked to teachers although whether they are from the schools the teachers work at is unknown.”
Police spokesman Lieutenant-General Solomon Makgale said all those arrested were men.
“The arrested include two teachers from Florida and Carletonville, a headmaster from Nelspruit, a legal officer from Lichtenburg.
“Police raided 15 properties and seized 672 DVDs, 22 memory sticks, eight laptops, two computer tablets, 39 external hard drives, 25 books,” he said.
The accused faced various charges, including possession and distribution of child pornography, Makgale said.
“Officers are investigating allegations of child-pornography manufacturing and more arrests are expected,” he said, adding that those arrested had links to a global syndicate.