Finland's National Bureau of Investigation is currently probing five Finnish citizens suspected of being part of an extensive international child abuse network, national broadcaster Yle reported.
Police believe the suspects produced material depicting graphic child sex abuse that was streamed online to a total of 17 countries, mostly European and other Western states. Some of the material streamed to Finland was extremely violent in nature and involved so-called snuff films that feature a staged killing. Other scenes contained features of devil worship, Nazism and various fetishes, investigators added.
Police suspect that the case involves six victims, all of them boys aged between six and 15 years old at the time the suspected offences occurred. The suspected crimes were believed to have been committed between 2004 and 2018, and police believe that some of the victims knew each other.
The cases are being investigated as aggravated child sexual abuse, aggravated rape, aggravated dissemination of indecent images of children, illegal possession of many such images, drug offences and viewing content featuring indecent images of children. Altogether, there are 22 charges under consideration.
Lead investigator Sanna Springare emphasised that violence and child harm were a key theme to the ring.
"This is a case of violence, its glorification and receiving sexual gratification from it", lead investigator Sanna Springare told Yle, describing the alleged ring leader as a man who has held a prominent position in Finnish society.
The Finnish police admitted to having gathered an exceptional amount of evidence in connection with the case. In total, 138 electronic devices with 96 terabytes of graphic video material have been confiscated. The suspected ringleader alone had over 400 hours of illegal video material in his possession.
"In its mildest form, the abuse in Finland occurred as showing adult pornography to children. In the worst cases, it involved the rape for up to 10 hours while the children were drugged with narcotics", Springare explained. In some cases, the young victims were drugged with amphetamines, the police said.
The location where the alleged crimes took place has not been revealed to protect the identity of the victims. Four of the five suspects have at some point been in police custody, but were later released. In the case of the alleged ringleader, his detention lasted around 12 months. However, they were considered very reliable in the neighbourhood, and parents trusted them with their children.
None of the victims had alerted the authorities about the abuse they suffered. The investigation was first launched in 2017 after a tip-off from foreign officials.
According to chief inspector Christian Jämsén, the police receive a thousand reports about sex offences against children annually. Still, he ventured, a large number of cases remain unreported. Most of the cases, he emphasised, are revealed by extraneous persons, such as social workers or other outsiders.