The Justice Department announced Wednesday the takedown of what it calls the largest Darknet child pornography site, along with charges against the South Korean national who allegedly ran the site and more than 300 users of the site worldwide.
The department said in a news release that Jong Woo Son, a South Korean national, allegedly ran the site, "Welcome To Video," and is in custody in South Korea where he also faces charges. Worldwide, 337 users of the site have been arrested and charged in the US, UK, South Korea, Germany, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Czech Republic, Canada, Ireland, Spain, Brazil and Australia, according to the department.
Son was arrested and the server was seized in March 2018, according to the nine-count indictment unsealed Wednesday. Agents from the US, UK and South Korea seized eight terabytes of child exploitation videos that the department says were offered for sale by bitcoin on "Welcome To Video."
According to the Justice Department, a former Homeland Security Investigations agent, Richard Gratkowski, was among the more than 30 site users charged in the US. He pleaded guilty in Texas to receiving child porn with the intent to view it and was sentenced to 70 months in prison, followed by 10 years of supervised released and $35,000 in restitution.
As a result of the takedown operation, 23 minor victims were rescued in the US, Spain and the UK "who were being actively abused by users of the site."
"Darknet sites that profit from the sexual exploitation of children are among the most vile and reprehensible forms of criminal behavior," said Brian Benczkowski, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department's Criminal Division. "This administration will not allow child predators to use lawless online spaces as a shield."
The takedown, he added, "demonstrates that the Department of Justice remains firmly committed to working closely with our partners in South Korea and around the world to rescue child victims and bring to justice the perpetrators of these abhorrent crimes."
The Darknet refers to an anonymised section of the net that allows everyone from copyright pirates, to drug dealers, to dissidents to communicate and do business without leaving their digital fingerprints.