Thai child modelling agent arrested for child sexual abuse and pornography; more than 500,000 images uncovered

Thai child modelling agent arrested for child sexual abuse and pornography; more than 500,000 images uncovered

Operation Casting Call in Thailand
Thai modelling agent Danudet 'Nene' Sangkaew was arrested on Feb 11, 2021 at his home office, where he allegedly sexually assaulted children and produced child pornographic materials. (Photo: Department of Special Investigation)

BANGKOK: A child modelling agent in Thailand was arrested and charged for alleged child sexual assault and child pornography in a high-profile case involving transnational crimes and thousands of children across the world.

The Thai Department of Special Investigation (DSI) announced on Tuesday (Feb 16) it had conducted a raid on Feb 11 at Nene Modelling Agency in Pathum Thani province, north of Bangkok. The agent was identified as Danudet Sangkaew, 23, who goes by the nickname "Nene". 

His arrest is part of DSI’s Operation Casting Call, which uncovered more than half a million image files related to child sexual exploitation in his possession. Victims include at least 40 Thai minors and thousands of other children in various countries. 

Operation Casting Call by Thailand's DSI
A team of investigators inspected a room inside Nene Modelling Agency allegedly used by Danudet Sangkaew to produce child sexual abuse materials. (Photo: Department of Special Investigation)

The operation followed a tip-off from the Australian Federal Police last year and involved multiple international agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, the New Zealand Police and Operation Underground Railroad, a non-profit organisation specialised in the rescue of child sex trafficking victims.

“This is a child-porn industry and we’re proud to have cracked it,” said Khemachart Prakyhongmanee, deputy director of the Foreign Affairs and Transnational Crime Bureau at DSI.

According to authorities, Danudet’s victims are all male minors aged between six and 15. The agent usually approached them through schools by pretending to search for young models. Such access allowed him to target children, forge ties with their parents and eventually abuse them at his office outside Bangkok.

“It’s like shopping for children for him,” Khemachart added. “When the child told his parents, they’d think ‘Oh! This came through the teachers. This is already screened,’ and trust him.”

A portfolio of the modelling agency confiscated by police claims it has worked with more than 8,400 child models and actors since 2013. In a statement, the DSI described it as "a famous child modelling agency in Thailand".

READ: Interpol busts child sex abuse network operating in US, Thailand, Australia; 50 victims identified

A SINGLE IMAGE LED TO OPERATION CASTING CALL

Operation Casting Call began with a single pornographic image of a boy that Australian police confiscated and forwarded to DSI last year. According to Khemachart from DSI, investigators noticed a tattooed hand in the photograph and used it to trace the perpetrator, who was later identified as Thakorn ‘Mee’ Attapathomchai.

“And where did he take that photo? It was at Nene Modelling Agency. So, we continued our search there. That’s how they’re connected,” Khemachart said.

Confiscated evidence
Thai authorities confiscated more than half a million child pornographic images in a raid at Nene Modelling Agency, north of Bangkok. (Photo: Pichayada Promchertchoo)

Thakorn was arrested in May last year. The image showing his tattooed hand was uncovered in a related investigation named Operation Blackwrist, which exposed a child sex abuse network operating a website from locations including Thailand and Australia.

The subsequent arrests of Thakorn and Danudet have led multinational law enforcers to expand their coordinated investigations in various countries. 

The recent confiscation of more than 500,000 child pornographic images is considered “the biggest confiscation in history”, according to Operation Underground Railroad’s Supree Saowichit. Since 2013, his organisation has assisted law enforcement officers in 26 countries in anti-child trafficking efforts.

“We feel honoured to support DSI in analysing data to identify victims through images and technologies,” Supree said. 

“One photo of a victim has led to the identification of many more as well as the arrest at Nene Modelling Agency, which possessed many pornographic materials. Many of these children were also sexually assaulted.”

THE DARK WEB AND CHILD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION

Besides hundreds of thousands of child sexual abuse materials, police also found a number of children’s costumes, toys, electronic devices and cartoon drawings used by the perpetrator to groom and abuse his victims. 

According to Khemachart, the image files were organised into various folders labelled according to countries, showing links between the perpetrator and overseas content providers. Moreover, police also found irregular transactions from abroad.

“For the Thai group, there are dozens of members. Do they approach children together? No. They do it individually but share information and images to each other,” he told CNA. 

Evidence from Operation Casting Call
Drawings confiscated by Thai authorities during a raid at Nene Modelling Agency. (Photo: Pichayada Promchertchoo)

Operation Casting Call has triggered more investigations both in Thailand and abroad. Besides legal prosecution of perpetrators, it also involves rescue efforts and aftercare services - for both the young victims and their parents.

“From one victim, we managed to uncover a related network, which involves transactions through the so-called dark web. The exchange takes place back and forth among perpetrators who produced child pornographic images and sexually assaulted children,” said DSI’s director-general Korrawat Panprapakorn on Tuesday.

“Globally, investigations remain ongoing, including significant work identifying and rescuing victims wherever they are located,” Simon Lalic from the Australian Federal Police added.

Danudet is currently detained at the Bangkok Remand Prison and facing various charges, including sexually assaulting children under the age of 13 and bringing pornographic data into a computer system that is accessible by the general public, among others.

Source: CNA/pp

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