KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysian authorities sought details on Friday of the abuse by a British pedophile who is awaiting sentencing in his homeland on charges of raping and abusing scores of Malaysian children.
Malaysians were shocked when news broke on Thursday that Richard Huckle, 30, had raped and sexually abused numerous Malaysian children from impoverished families while he worked in the country as a freelance photographer for nearly a decade.
Malaysian police said they were seeking details on the man’s victims from their British counterparts while the Malaysian government set up a hot line for members of the public to phone if they had information.
“The victims have not been identified and the NCA only informed about the incident about one month ago, but no information had been given because the case is still on trial,” Ong Chin Lan, a senior officer in the police’s Sexual, Women and Child Investigation Division, told the Bernama news agency.
The NCA is the London-based National Crime Agency.
“We have asked for the information repeatedly and will continue to press them for more information for follow-up action,” she said.
Huckle, who was arrested in London when he was returning home for Christmas in 2014, began exploiting children and documenting his activities in 2005 when he first visited Malaysia. His victims were aged between six months and 12 years, according to a British court document.
Media reports said Huckle had gained the trust of people in Christian-dominated communities in Muslim-majority Malaysia and also lived in churches in the capital, Kuala Lumpur.
He was charged with 91 offences, including 14 counts of rape of a child under 13 years old. His victims included five children aged between 3 and 12 at the time of the abuse, and a baby believed to be six months old, the document said.
He is believed to have abused up to 200 children, the BBC reported.
Malaysian police said they were aware of 23 victims and only found out about the case when their British counterparts came to Malaysia in April to inform them of Huckle’s arrest and the charges against him.
No reports were previously lodged by either the victims or their caretakers, criminal investigations department deputy director Law Hong Soon told a news conference.
Huckle pleaded guilty to 71 offences. A London court will sentence him on Monday and he faces a life sentence.
While the police sought more details the government had set up a special phone line for information, Women, Family and Community Development Minister Rohani Abdul Karim said in a statement.
The government was also setting up a sex offenders’ registry, she said.
A child rights group said the Huckle case was the tip of the iceberg.
“Sadly, child sex abuse is very prevalent in Malaysia,” said Sharmila Sekaran if the advocacy group Voice of the Children.
Sekaran said child sex tourism was also a problem.
The U.N. Children’s Fund said the case highlighted a global problem and it wanted to help drafting laws to protect children in Malaysia.
British authorities recovered more than 20,000 indecent images of children from Huckle’s computers and cameras after his arrest, and also found a 60-page “how-to” guide he wrote on sexually abusing children and how to evade detection.
Reporting by Joseph Sipalan; Editing by Praveen Menon and Robert Birsel