March 10, 2008 / 6:13 AM / 10 years ago

"Swirly-face" pedophile suspect on trial in Thailand

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Canadian pedophile suspect Christopher Neil went on trial in Thailand on Monday, more than four months after he was arrested in a global man-hunt triggered by “swirly face” images of abuse found on the Internet.

<p>Canadian Christopher Paul Neil arrives at the Bangkok Criminal Court March 10, 2008. Neil went on trial in Thailand on Monday, more than four months after he was arrested in a global man-hunt triggered by "swirly face" images of abuse found on the Internet. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom</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, a prosecutor told reporters.

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

“I just hope there is justice in Thailand,” Neil, clean-shaven and wearing orange-brown prison clothes, told reporters before entering the courtroom.

Neil was caught after clever police work 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 Neil 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.

Three charges of molesting underage children, depriving children of parental care and restraint of freedom are connected to the 9-year-old boy. Neil is also charged with distributing pornographic images of the brothers.

The court adjourned the trial to June 2, the earliest date when judges, prosecutor and a defense lawyer appointed by the court on Monday, were available, Neil’s lawyer Ranachai Chumthong told reporters.

Ranachai said his client would ask for bail.

Neil was caught in October last year in the northeastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima, 250 km (160 miles) from Bangkok, due to a trace on the mobile phone of his 25-year-old transvestite boyfriend.

The transvestite boyfriend, the only friend who visits Neil regularly in jail and showed up in court, told reporters she did not believe the “friendly and fun guy” was a pedophile.

“He never did anything to my nieces or nephews when I took him to see my family,” said the partner, who identified herself to reporters as “Ohm.”

“He was a romantic man taking me to places like islands and beaches,” she added. “I believe he did not do it. I am not seeing anyone and I will wait for him until he is free.”

Thai police said he could be extradited once he had served any sentence. Cambodia said it also wanted to question Neil and would charge him if police there could put a case together. Vietnam might also want to question him.

Editing by Darren Schuettler

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