A joint operation between the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Europol, and other international law enforcement agencies led to the arrest of a man living in France who had been operating a child abuse forum on the darkweb, a prosecutor in France confirmed. Prior to the investigation conducted by international law enforcement agencies, the man had been living a quiet life where he attracted no attention from French police. Although the man had a “normal” social life where he fit in without question, he lived completely differently when behind closed doors. He allegedly operated a “very large” network of pedophiles on a massive child abuse forum.
Florent Boura, the public prosecutor in the French Municipality of Breteuil, confirmed to Le Parisien that the investigators with the Central Office for the Repression of Violence against Persons (Office Central de la Répression de la Violence faite aux Personnes) conducted an investigation based on foreign intelligence that recently led to an arrest. The investigation into a 47-year-old living in Breteuil lasted several months, the prosecutor said. In October, the investigation culminated in a raid at the suspected child pornography forum administrator’s Breteuil home. Law enforcement arrested the man and placed him in police custody, pending further developments in the case.
“Police officers of the Central Office for the Repression of Violence against Persons, acting within a preliminary framework and under the direction of the Beauvais Prosecutor’s Office, proceeded to arrest a man for possession of images of a minor of a sexual nature and dissemination of images of a minor of a sexual nature via an electronic communications network” the public prosecutor told the press. Additional charges are pending and, as the prosecutor said, French law enforcement officers have only acted on a preliminary report and investigation conducted by the Central Office for the Repression of Violence against Persons.
Based on the information provided to the public by the public prosecutor, it appears as if the investigation began after a so-called “foundation specialized in tracking child pornography on the internet” identified the man as the possible owner of an undisclosed child abuse forum on the darkweb. It is currently unknown whether or not the forum was active during the investigation. It may have been a forum seized by law enforcement agencies in a different investigation where, perhaps, authorities in a different country arrested a joint administrator—if the forum had multiple administrators. Another possible scenario involves a setup much like that of the German darkweb child abuse forum “Elysium.” Elysium had several staff members with administrative access to the forum but only one “administrator.” During the course of the German Federal Criminal Police Office investigation into the owner of the forum, they discovered that the person who had created the forum and the person who owned the forum were different people. The creator had some level of elevated access to the platform and provided ongoing tech support but hardly participated in the actual activities that took place on the forum. He admitted, in court, that he had exchanged illegal content with several users, including the accused admin and forum moderators currently on trial in Germany.
In the case of the recently arrested man living in France, he could have held a position such as that of the Elysium creator. During the takedown of a different darkweb forum, law enforcement elsewhere in the world may have overlooked his existence. The possibility exists that the 47-year-old actually worked as the administrator of a currently active forum instead of the one busted by the joint operations between international law enforcement agencies, such as the operation that led to the takedown of the Child’s Play forum.
The “foundation specialized in tracking child pornography on the internet” shared their information with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and law enforcement in Australia. Although the specific agency in Australia was not named by the public prosecutor, one could safely assume Taskforce Argos played a role in the investigation. After the Australian agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation had conducted their investigation, they completed a report and forwarded the report to Europol. In turn, agents then sent it to French authorities. The OCRVP received the report, conducted an investigation that lasted “several months,” and arrested the man on possession and distribution charges.
According to the public prosecutor, forensic investigators are searching through the man’s computers, gathering evidence for an upcoming indictment.