HomeCrimeSouth Korea rejects US extradition request for child pornography site owner

South Korea rejects US extradition request for child pornography site owner

Photo from Flickr Creative Commons by Daniel Lobo

A South Korean court Monday denied the US’ request for the extradition of a South Korean citizen, convicted of running the world’s biggest child pornography website.

Son Jong-woo operated Welcome to Video, a child pornography site on the dark net from 2015 to 2018. BBC dubbed this to be the largest child pornography site and the “covert online den for people who traded in clips of children being sexually assaulted.” Among the victims, there was a child just over 6 months old.

Authorities tracked more than 300 people connected to the website from many countries including South Korea, Britain, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Spain, Brazil and Australia.

According to The Korean Herald, the 24 year-old child pornography site operator was arrested in March 2018, after joint investigations by Korean, US, British authorities. Son was sentenced to 18 months in a local prison for producing and circulating images of child sexual abuse.

As soon as Son finished his 18 month sentence this April, the US Justice Department requested him to be extradited to face money-laundering and other charges in an American court, according to New York Times. Son was suspected of collecting $335,000 in the cryptocurrency, Bitcoin.

However, the Seoul High Court officially denied the extradition request by the US on Monday.

According to Yonhap News, the court said, “It cannot be ruled out that the extradition (of Son to the U.S) could hamper South Korea’s investigation into sexually exploitative content.”

The Seoul court stressed that extraditing Son would make it more difficult for Korean authorities, who have already been investigating this case, to identify other illegal content consumers in the country.

“The decision should not be interpreted as exonerating him,” the court added. “Son should actively cooperate with the investigation and face proper punishment.”

Although Son’s porn site contained more than 250,000 videos, the child pornography distributor only served an 18-month sentence under the Korean law. The relatively mild punishment triggered nation-wide rage.

The Korea Herald stated many Koreans took to social media to express how infuriated they were with the local court’s decision to not extradite Son. This case surfaced when Son’s father filed a public petition on the website of the presidential office in early May. Recognizing the much more severe punishment awaiting Son in the United States, Son’s father requested the Korean court to not send his son to the United States.

If Son had been sentenced in the US, he could have faced up to 20 years in prison; just for money laundering charges. Some men in the US who received child pornography through Son’s site have been sentenced to five to 15 years in prison, according to New York Times

Yonhap News reported the recent court decision to further investigate Son in Korea sheds light on how lenient South Korea is on sex crimes involving minors.

As of now, Son is expected to be released from the Seoul Detention Center and investigated again in connection with a complaint filed by his father. According to Yonhap News, he did it so that Korea would not extradite him to the US where penalties are more severe. Son will also be scrutinized for international money laundering charges.

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