Seoul: A Seoul court Monday denied an extradition request by the US for a South Korean criminal who ran one of the world’s biggest illicit child sites.
The Seoul High Court said it decided to reject the request to extradite Son Jong-woo, the operator of Welcome to Video, which ran on the darknet, inaccessible by regular web browsers, because having him here in South Korea would be more helpful for the country’s fight against illicit child website content, reports Yonhap News Agency.
“It cannot be ruled out that the extradition could hamper South Korea’s investigation into sexually exploitative content,” the court said, citing that extraditing him would make it harder for Korean authorities, which have been investigating his case, to secure evidence to crack down on illegal content consumers in the country.
“The decision should not be interpreted as exonerating him,” the court said, adding that “Son should actively cooperate with the investigation and face proper punishment”.
Son was indicted by a federal grand jury in the District of Columbia in the US in August 2018 on nine counts for his operation of the massive child sexual exploitation site.
In the previous two hearings of the extradition case, Son’s lawyer demanded South Korea guarantee that he won’t be punished in the US for producing and distributing child pornography, citing Korea’s extradition laws that rule against double punishment for the same criminal activity.
During the second trial on June 16, Son made an appeal in a court appearance to go through legal processes in South Korea, where punishments for crimes related to child pornography tend to be much more lenient than in the US.
Son was arrested in South Korea in March 2018 and convicted of generating and distributing exploitative content for fees paid using the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, reports Yonhap News Agency.
During the arrest process, authorities found approximately eight terabytes of child sexual assault videos.
He finished serving an 18-month prison term in April but was taken back into custody since an arrest warrant was issued for potential US 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.
From 2010-2019, the Seoul court deliberated on 30 extradition cases and rejected such a request only once in 2013 for a Chinese arson suspect.