A fake modelling agency that allegedly facilitated the sexual abuse of thousands of children in Thailand has been shut down.
Danudetch ‘Nene’ Saengkaew, 28, arrested in Thailand after his business was linked to a global child exploitation ring being investigated by Australian police.
He was grabbed at his home in Pathum Thani province, just north of Bangkok, on February 11 by the Thai Department of Special Investigations after a tip-off from the Australian Federal Police.
The Thai citizen was charged with sexually assaulting children under 13, taking away children aged under 15 for indecent purposes, and many others.
Thai authorities said he was using the modelling agency as a front to access and abuse children, then record and distribute footage and images of the horrific crimes.
The alleged victims were all boys aged between six and 15, with many allegedly approached by the agent at their schools under the pretence of conducting a model search
Saengkaew would then allegedly forge ties with the family before taking the children to his home office where they were abused and photographed.
Nene Modelling was one of Thaliand’s top agencies, the DSI said, and worked with an estimated 8,400 child models and actors since 2013.
The agency produced materials for national advertising campaigns on TV and throughout the media and worked with many leading firms in the country’s advertising industry, according to local news reports.
Thai authorities told local media outlets the victims included Thai children and ‘thousands’ from other countries, including Australia and Europe
Saengkaew was first arrested last May after Thai authorities searched the modelling agency’s headquarters while investigating the alleged activities of another man identified as part of a South Australian joint anti-child exploitation team investigation.
Police in Thailand said they seized several electronic devices with more than half a million files of child abuse material and charged the 28-year-old with possessing the illegal content.
Last week, Thai police searched Saengkaew’s home, which was also used as the offices of the modelling agency, and charged him with the latest crimes.
A number of children’s costumes, toys, electronic devices and cartoon drawings allegedly used to groom and abuse his victims were also found by Thai authorities.
The international investigation – which started in Asia – has already led to the jailing of nine paedophiles in Thailand and Australia since May 2018, including Australia’s worst paedophile Ruecha Tokputza.
It also led to the identification of more than 1,000 child victims, including the removal of numerous children from immediate harm in Australia and overseas.
Australian Federal Police Commander Peter Sykora said the latest arrest shows the impact of law enforcement agencies working together.
‘There are no borders when it comes to protecting children and investigations are ongoing to identify and rescue victims wherever they are located,’ he said.
SA JACET, which consists of Australian Federal Police and South Australia police officers, launched Operation Bayldon in late 2017 after a referral from Interpol.
With help from the Thai Department of Special Investigation, Interpol identified a website trading in pay-per-view child abuse material, featuring boys from Asia.
An administrator of the website, Thai national Tokputza, was found to live in Adelaide.
In January 2018, simultaneous police searches in Thailand and Adelaide led to arrests in both countries.
SA investigators reviewed more than 850,000 video and image files seized from the Adelaide-based site administrator, which showed him sexually abusing multiple children, including babies.
In May 2019, Tokputza was sentenced to 40 years and three months’ jail in Adelaide – the longest sentence imposed for child sex abuse crimes in Australia at the time, with the judge branding him ‘every parent’s worst nightmare’.
The website’s main administrator Montri Salangam, living in Thailand, was alleged to have abused 11 boys including his own nephew in some of the footage.
Thailand courts sentenced Salangam to 146 years in prison in June 2018 for charges including child rape, human trafficking, possession and distribution of child sexual abuse material.
Another man, working as a nursery school teacher, was also given 36 years in prison for the same charges.
Around the time Toputza was sentenced, Interpol’s Operation Blackwrist tracked down the children that were often masked by the paedophiles in the footage, rescuing 50 from the child sex ring.