Operation Endeavor, which began in 2012, was carried out by the United Kingdom's National Crime Agency, the Australian Federal Police, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, targeting an organized crime group that arranged for customers to pay to see children being sexually abused live on webcam, Britain's National Crime Agency said in a release Thursday.
Seventeen of the arrests were made in the United Kingdom, which has resulted in five convictions. Nine investigations are still ongoing and one required no further action. Two of the suspects have since died.
The operation started when police in Northamptonshire, England, made a routine visit to the home of registered sex offender Timothy Ford and found several of the videos on his computer.
Analysis of the videos led investigators to identify additional suspects, as well as 15 children between the ages of 6 and 15 in the Philippines who were believed to have been sexually exploited.
More than $60,000 was paid by customers to watch the live feeds.
"This investigation has identified some extremely dangerous child sexual offenders who believed paying for children to be abused to order was something they could get away with. Being thousands of miles away makes no difference to their guilt. In my mind they are just as responsible for the abuse of these children as the contact abusers overseas," said Andy Baker, deputy director of the NCA's Child Exploitation & Online Protection Center.
"Thanks to this joint operation, children have been rescued from a living nightmare," ICE Homeland Security Investigations Executive Associate Director James Dinkins said. "The group responsible for these heinous crimes mistakenly believed that they could use technology to avoid detection, but they were wrong.
"We will continue to work tirelessly with our international law enforcement partners across jurisdictions and national boundaries to protect children anywhere in the world and bring criminals to justice regardless of where they live."