An investigation led by Spanish police has resulted in the arrest of 38 people suspected of sharing indecent images of children online in Europe and Latin America.
Coordinated by the Spanish National Police with the support of Europol and Interpol, Operation Tantalio saw law enforcement agencies across South America and Europe target the distribution of child abuse material via WhatsApp and the dark web.
According to a statement from Europol, the arrests took place in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Germany, Guatemala, Italy, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal and Spain.
Four of the six individuals held in Columbia were said to be subjects of Interpol Blue Notices – alerts issued by the intergovernmental organisation when it wants to locate individuals of interest in criminal inquires.
The arrests were made in a series of house raids after Europol and Interpol held action days at the headquarters of the Spanish National Police at the end of last month. The raids resulted in the seizure of hundreds of devices containing several terabytes of indecent images and videos of children.
The probe began last year when Spanish officers traced mobile phone numbers linked to WhatsApp messaging groups found to contain child abuse material, allowing investigators to identify both the producers and distributors of the content.
A total of 25 invitation-only WhatsApp groups are currently being investigated as part of the operation.
Much of the material recovered in the house raids was shared with Europol and Interpol via the latter’s International Child Sexual Exploitation (ICSE) database, which enables specialists to use sophisticated software to identify victims, abusers and locations, Interpol said.
Investigators are now working through the material in a bid to identify more of the child victims who appear in the pictures and film.
Bjorn Sellstrom, Interpol’s Crimes Against Children Operations Coordinator, said: “Criminals will continue to exploit new technologies to share videos and images of child abuse around the world at the push of a button.
“But actions like Operation Tantalio send a strong message: police worldwide remain united in their efforts to identify, locate and bring you to justice for engaging in or benefiting from these heinous crimes.”
Rob Wainwright, Director of Europol, commented: “These offenders are pushing the boundaries of modern technologies to try to avoid being caught by law enforcement.
“This case is an excellent example of global law enforcement cooperation, led by the Spanish National Police. We need to continue to combine our joint resources and skills to tackle this threat to our children and bring these offenders to justice.”
Interpol said it would continue to assist ongoing investigations linked to the operation as the police forces involved analyse the huge amount of digital material seized during the probe.