Thailand nabs Canadian pedophile suspect

BANGKOK Fri Oct 19, 2007 6:58pm EDT

1 of 7. Policemen escort suspected Canadian paedophile Christopher Paul Neil to the national police headquarters in Bangkok October 19, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Sukree Sukplang

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BANGKOK (Reuters) - Canadian pedophile suspect Christopher Neil, focus of a global hunt that ended in rural Thailand on Friday, will be charged with molesting underage children after being tracked down through his boyfriend's phone.

Thai police appealed for more victims to come forward after nabbing Neil at a rented house. Neil is also accused of raping young boys in Vietnam and Cambodia after being unmasked by nifty police computer work and hunted in a unique Internet appeal.

"From pictures on the Internet, there were five to seven children under age 10 who have been abused by him, including one girl," Deputy National Police Chief Wongkot Maneerin told a packed news conference in Bangkok.

Neil, 32, caught in the northeast Thai province of Nakhon Ratchasima, 250 km (150 miles) from Bangkok and well off the normal tourist trail, refused to answer reporters' questions.

Police said Neil, who arrived in handcuffs at national police headquarters, his head covered by a blue T-shirt, had confirmed his identity to investigators but said nothing else.

Neil was no stranger to Thailand, having once taught in a Bangkok language school, but his hiding place was revealed by a trace on the mobile phone of his 25-year-old Thai boyfriend, identified by transvestites in the seedy beach town of Pattaya.

"They went together to different provinces, probably on the run, and the last call made was from Nakhon Ratchasima. So I sent my men there," tourist police chief Chuchart Suwannakom told Reuters.

Thai police issued a warrant for Neil's arrest on Thursday, a week after he fled South Korea, after two Thai teenagers accused him of paying for oral sex when they were nine and 14, grounds for prosecution under Thai law.

Neil could face up to 20 years in jail if convicted in Thailand. Wongkot said he would be prosecuted in Bangkok, but left open the possibility he could be extradited once he had served his sentence.

"He has to be prosecuted in Thailand first," he said.

"SWIRLY FACE"

Canada -- which can prosecute its citizens for child sex crimes committed abroad, but has rarely done so -- has not said if it plans to seek Neil's extradition.

"We are aware an arrest has been made and we will offer consular services as necessary," a spokesman for the Canadian embassy in Bangkok said.

Cambodia said it also wanted to question Neil and would charge him if police there could put a case together.

"We want to know did he really commit sexual abuses on Cambodia's children and women," Police Major General Keo Vannthan said. "If so it will lead us to locate the victims and we will file suit against him."

Vietnam might also want to question Neil.

Detectives in various countries had been trying to track Neil down since German police discovered photographs on the Internet three years ago of a man sexually abusing 12 boys in Vietnam and Cambodia.

His face had been scrambled with a digital swirling pattern, but German police computer experts managed to unravel the "Swirly Face" disguise and Interpol issued an unprecedented worldwide appeal through the Internet for information on who the man was.

More than 350 people came forward and Neil was identified by five sources from three different continents, Interpol said.

Neil abruptly left South Korea, where he was teaching, after Interpol broadcast his cleaned-up photograph and flew to Thailand, where he was photographed with shaved head and glasses by airport security cameras.

Thailand and its neighbors immediately alerted border posts in case he tried to sneak across a land frontier as Thai police launched a manhunt to rival their search a year ago for JonBenet Ramsey murder suspect John Mark Karr.

Karr was arrested in a run-down Bangkok hostel and sent back to the United States, where he was eventually cleared of any involvement in Ramsey's murder, one of America's most infamous unsolved crimes.

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