June 3, 2008 / 12:43 AM / 10 years ago

"Swirly-face" pedophile suspect denies Thai charges

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A Thai court began the formal trial on Monday of Canadian pedophile suspect Christopher Neil, seven months after he was arrested in a global manhunt triggered by “swirly face” images of abuse found on the Internet.

<p>Canadian Christopher Paul Neil sits inside a detention cell at the Bangkok Criminal Court June 2, 2008. REUTERS/Kerek Wongsa</p>

Neil, his wrists and ankles shackled as he appeared in the Bangkok Criminal Court, pleaded not guilty to four charges of molesting and distributing pornographic images of two Thai boys.

“I deny all the charges as I have done nothing wrong,” Neil, clean-shaven and wearing orange-brown prison clothes, said.

If found guilty, the 32-year-old could spend up to 20 years in jail.

He was caught after police computer experts unraveled his digitally scrambled face from images of abuse found on the Internet, prompting Interpol to issue a unique public appeal.

The pictures are thought to have been taken in Vietnam and Cambodia, so fall outside Thai jurisdiction.

However, after he fled to Thailand from South Korea, where he had been teaching, two Thai brothers came forward and accused him of paying for oral sex when they were 9 and 14, grounds for prosecution under Thai law.

Neil presented a list of four defense witnesses and refused to pay 300,000 baht in compensation demanded by the parents of one of the boys.

The next hearing was due on October 7, Neil’s lawyer said.

Reporting by Sintana Kosolpradit; writing by Nopporn Wong-Anan; Editing by Ed Cropley and Valerie Lee

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