Schoolteacher arrested for pedophilia in Thailand

Schoolteacher Christopher Paul Neil was arrested in Thailand on Friday. The police had been looking him for three years after the discovery of online pictures showing a man having sexual intercourse with boys.

Neil was arrested at a house in the rural northeastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima, which he rented with a Thai transvestite friend whose phone calls police had traced.

"I think he knew we were coming," said police Col. Paisal Luesomboon, one of the arresting officers. "He knew that there was an arrest warrant issued and that his face was posted everywhere."

Paisal said Neil, 32, acknowledged he was the man they had been looking for, but didn't comment on whether he was the man seen having sex with a dozen different boys, aged between six and twelve years, in photos posted on the Internet.

Only 10 days earlier, the international police agency Interpol had issued an unprecedented worldwide appeal to identify and apprehend the suspect, whose face had been digitally obscured in the photographs.

But after German police computer experts reversed the process, making the face recognizable, some of the photos were circulated this month and hundreds of people responded with tips to his identity, leading to Paul's arrest.

"Let all international criminals and fugitives be put on notice that Interpol, its police partners in 186 member countries, the public and the Internet present new and powerful possibilities for hunting them down, wherever they might try to hide," Interpol Secretary General Ronald K. Noble said in a statement issued in France, where the agency is headquartered.

After his arrest, Neil was driven to the Thai capital Bangkok where _ in handcuffs and with a blue shirt draped over his head _ officers led him into national police headquarters. He didn't comment to the waiting horde of reporters.

He remained silent and unsmiling as he was presented at a news conference. The shirt was removed from his face, but his eyes remained hidden behind a pair of sunglasses.

"He wants to exercise his rights not to speak until he gets legal advice," said Deputy National Police Chief Maj. Gen. Wongkot Maneerin at the conference, where police described how they nabbed the fugitive.

On Thursday night, they traced a call made on a mobile phone by a 25-year-old Thai man with whom Neil was previously known to be in touch, said Col. Paisal, superintendent of the Tourist Police Division.

Police earlier said the man had arranged some of Neil's alleged sexual liaisons with boys, but Paisal did not describe their relationship at Friday's news conference.

They found the Thai man, whom they described as a transvestite, in the northeastern province of Chaiyaphum. He told police he and Neil had rented a house together in neighboring Nakhon Ratchasima province, and on Friday morning the man led the five-man police team there.

When they went to the house, Neil surrendered peacefully and acknowledged he was the man they were looking for. The police used a warrant issued Thursday to place him under arrest.

Neil was charged Friday with detention of a child under 15 without parental consent, punishable by up to three years in prison; taking a child under 15 from his parents without consent, punishable by five to 20 years; and sexual abuse of a child under 15, punishable by up to 10 years.

The charges are based on his alleged abuse of a 9-year-old boy in Bangkok in 2003, but Thai police say at least three other boys are believed to have had sex with him, and more charges may be filed.

Neil lived in Thailand from 2002 to early 2004, police said. Three Thai youths contacted police Wednesday after seeing Neil's photograph on television, claiming he had paid each of them 500 baht to 1,000 baht (US$16 to US$32; Ђ11 to Ђ22) to perform oral sex on him in 2003. They were aged 9, 13 and 14 at the time of their alleged abuse.

Police are expected to bring Neil before a judge Saturday so he can be kept in custody pending further investigations.

Neil had taught at various schools in Thailand, South Korea and Vietnam since 2000. Before then, Neil worked as a chaplain in Canada, counseling teens.

He suddenly left his most recent teaching job in South Korea last week on a one-way ticket to Thailand as investigators came closer to identifying him.

Cameras at the immigration counter captured his image as he arrived at Bangkok's international airport, confirming his whereabouts.

Canadian authorities have said they will seek his extradition, but have not yet done so, according to Thai officials. Canada has sex tourism laws allowing prosecution for crimes committed overseas.

But Thai Deputy National Police Chief Wongkot said Neil would "definitely" be prosecuted in Thailand. "He will have to go to Thai court first. After the case is over, then we can send him," he said.

Whether he would have to serve his sentence here if convicted is unknown. Foreigners convicted of crimes in Thailand are sometimes declared undesirable aliens after their trials, and are expelled from the country.

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Author`s name Angela Antonova