January 11, 2008 / 10:10 AM / 12 years ago

"Swirly-face" pedophile suspect pleads innocent

Suspected Canadian paedophile Christopher Paul Neil waits inside the Bangkok Criminal Court's detention cell to be transferred to Klong Prem prison in Bangkok October 20, 2007. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang

BANGKOK (Reuters) - “Swirly-face” Canadian pedophile suspect Christopher Neil pleaded not guilty on Friday in a pre-trial court hearing to charges of molesting under-age children in Thailand, a court official said on Friday.

The Bangkok criminal court set March 10 as the start of Neil’s trial, more than four months after he was arrested in an international man-hunt triggered by the unraveling of his digitally scrambled face from images of abuse found on the Internet.

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 teenagers came forward and accused him of paying for oral sex when they were nine and 14, grounds for prosecution under Thai law.

“He denied all the charges at a pre-trial interview by an assistant judge,” the court official, who declined to be identified, told Reuters.

The 32-year-old, unmasked by clever police computer work and a unique Interpol Internet appeal, faced charges of molesting under-age children, depriving children of parental care and restraint of freedom, said the official.

If found guilty, he could spend up to 20 years in jail.

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

Thai police said he could be extradited once he had served his 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.

Reporting by Saovapark Pradubsang, writing by Nopporn Wong-Anan; editing by Ed Cropley and Roger Crabb

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