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U.S. extradition hearings begin for child porn site operator

14:46 May 19, 2020

SEOUL, May 19 (Yonhap) -- A Seoul court held the first hearing Tuesday to decide whether to extradite a criminal who ran one of the world's biggest child porn sites.

U.S. authorities have requested the extradition of Son Jong-woo, the operator of Welcome to Video, which ran on the darknet, inaccessible by regular web browsers.

He was indicted by a federal grand jury in the District of Columbia in the U.S. in August 2018 on nine counts for his operation of the massive child sexual exploitation site.

During the Tuesday hearing, which Son did not attend but his father did, his lawyer argued South Korea should guarantee that he won't be punished in the U.S. for producing and distributing child pornography, citing Korea's extradition laws that rule against double punishment for the same criminal activity.

Son Jong-woo's father exits a court room in Seoul after attending a hearing on potential extradition of Son to the U.S., on May 19, 2020. (Yonhap)

Son was arrested in Korea in March 2018 and convicted of generating and distributing exploitative content for fees paid using the cryptocurrency Bitcoin.

During the arrest process, authorities found approximately eight terabytes of child sexual assault videos.

He finished serving an 18-month prison term last month, but was taken back into custody since an arrest warrant was issued for potential U.S. extradition.

Son operated the site from June 2015 until March 2018 when it was taken down by law enforcement.

Officials around the world worked together to chase down the site's users and arrested 337 people, including 223 Koreans. At least 23 underage victims abused by the site's users were rescued.

A second and last hearing is scheduled for June 16 when a decision on extradition will be made.

Meanwhile, Son's father filed a complaint against his son last week for what he argued was a violation of laws that prohibit proceeds from criminal activities from being concealed. The move was widely seen as a bid to stop the extradition by having him face a legal process in Korea.

jaeyeon.woo@yna.co.kr
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