Washington, 27 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. law enforcement officials say U.S. and Russian police have shut down an Internet site that allegedly sold child pornography videos.
The U.S. Customs Service said today it worked closely with the Moscow municipal police to shut down the Internet site known as Blue Orchid. So far, nine people have been arrested -- four in America and five in Russia. Customs official Kevin Delli-Colli said the website was closed in December.
Delli-Colli told a news conference that Blue Orchid not only showed child pornography at its Internet site. He said it also used the web to take and process orders for customers all over the world, mostly in the U.S.
"It's not just the digital transmission of movies. They used the Internet to advertise, you know, tangible property, the videotapes and the CD-ROMs. You go to their website -- there's a copy of it over there, one of the pages -- very similar to a variety of different e-commerce sites you'd see. It has a description of the products they sell, thumbnail photos of the pictures that are being -- that are in the movie. And it gives you instructions on how to order those movies."
Delli-Colli said the videotapes were sold at prices ranging from $200 to $300. They were distributed by private messenger service and even through the international postal system.
The Customs Service official emphasized that Russians involved in Blue Orchid were not members of the country's organized crime infrastructure. He said they operated the site to make a modest amount of money -- and for a second reason:
"Like most pedophiles, they love child pornography, and it's part of what their personas are all about. And they like other people to have it, so they like to share that pornography."
In May 2000, Moscow police asked the Customs Service for help tracking down the pornographers. The U.S. authorities bought a video from the website, and the transaction led them to one of the site's operators, a 13-year-old victim of the pedophiles -- and a hoard of tapes, duplicating equipment, and customer records. Three others were arrested in Russia -- including a cameraman who later committed suicide.
Meanwhile, the customer records led to the arrest of three people in the U.S.
Charles Winwood, the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs, said the joint investigation -- called Operation Blue Orchid -- is a good example of cooperation between two countries.
"Operation Blue Orchid demonstrates that there really are no borders when it comes to our mutual interest in protecting children. Regrettably, it also demonstrates that there really are no borders when it comes to using the Internet to exploit children."
Despite tensions in U.S.-Russian relations over last week's expulsions of diplomats by both countries in a row over espionage, Delli-Colli said bilateral cooperation in law enforcement has not been affected.