Australian Federal Police announced last Friday, October 23, the arrest of 44 men on 350 charges related to possession of child abuse material as a result of Operation Molto. During the course of the arrests, 16 children were said to have been removed from harmful environments.
The investigation has been going on for a year and remains active at this time.
Investigators with the AFP have made arrests in each of the states within Australia as well as the Australian Capital Territory. Those arrested are between the ages of 19 and 57 years old and represent a wide range of occupations from construction, to transportation, to law enforcement, and hospitality.
Members of the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation began the investigation a year ago when they were given a tip relating to a cloud storage platform that was being used to share "abhorrent" abuse material.
Police stated that some of the individuals arrested as a part of the operation were found to be in possession of material that had been produced by a man that had been arrested in 2015 under Operation Niro for his role in an international pedophile syndicate which had been responsible for material described as "the most abhorrent produced."
Reece Kershaw, AFP Commissioner stated that the 100s of officers involved in the ongoing investigation were well aware of the fact that there were still victims out there in need of rescuing.
"Arresting offenders and putting them before the court is only half the battle,'' Kershaw said. "Identifying victims is a race against time and the ACCCE's victim identification team is relentless in rescuing children from sexual abuse. 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."
Kershaw continued saying, "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."
During the past year, ACCCE is reported to have intercepted and examined more than 250,000 images showing child abuse which resulted in 44 referrals to its victim identification team. Those referrals related to more than 4,000 images and 2,200 videos.
Between July 2019 and June 2020, the AFP's investigations have resulted in 134 children being removed from dangerous situations. 67 of those children were within Australia, and the remaining 67 were from various international locations.
Operation Molto arrests per state:
11 alleged offenders in Victoria are facing 105 charges; six children have been removed
8 alleged offenders in NSW are facing 49 charges; one child has been removed
11 alleged offenders in Queensland are facing 114 charges; two children have been removed
9 alleged offenders in South Australia are facing 67 charges; six children have been removed
2 alleged offenders in Western Australia are facing 7 charges; no children were removed
2 alleged offenders in Tasmania are facing 5 charges; no children were removed
In the ACT, one person was arrested and will face 3 charges; one child was removed
Members of the public who have any information about people involved in child abuse and exploitation are urged to call Crime stoppers on 1800 333 000.
Reports can also be made online by alerting the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation via the Report Abuse button at www.accce.gov.au/report.