Europol and INTERPOL have supported the Spanish National Police on Operation Tantalio, a complex investigation targeting the distribution of child sexual exploitation material through darknet platforms and Whatsapp. So far 38 suspects were arrested in Europe and South America. The arrests took place in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Germany, Guatemala, Italy, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, and Spain.

Specialists in combating child sexual exploitation from the Spanish National Police, Europol and INTERPOL worked through action days at the headquarters of the Spanish National Police Headquarters on 28-29 March. The arrests and house searches conducted led to the seizure of hundreds of devices containing several terabytes of child sexual exploitation material.

The joint action in Europe against more than 30 suspects across 5 countries has been coordinated by Europol.  More than 100 targets have been focused on through INTERPOL in 13 countries across Central and South America. Altogether 18 different law enforcement agencies worldwide launched coordinated legal activities aimed at tackling this interconnected criminal network.

The investigations by the Spanish National Police’s High-Tech Crime Unit began in mid-2016 and focused at first on the TOR1 network. Prompted by clear evidence of prolific sharing of indecent images, the Spanish investigators revealed links diverting users to private groups on WhatsApp.  A total of 25 groups, formed by invitation only, are currently being investigated.

The investigators monitor the activity on these channels using many different resources in this complex case.  They also deal with the demands of different legal frameworks in a worldwide investigation.  Based on the analysis of the criminal activity and evidence gathered, law enforcement managed to link more than 130 suspects to intelligence packages that were prepared and disseminated. The house searches and arrests followed shortly after.

The seized material is currently being analysed by the investigators with the aim of identifying the children who are victims of these crimes and rescue them from their harmful situation.

Europol.s European Cyber Crime Centre (EC3) and the Joint Cybercrime Action Task Force (JCAT) , a group of cyber-liaison officers from different countries who work together in a trust environment within Europol, have supported Operation Tantalio from the outset in the coordination of roles, tasks, meetings and through intelligence analysis and the facilitation of the secure information exchange. INTERPOL played an important role in liaising with the American countries and in the victim identification process.