The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on September 24, 2022, conducted searches at 59 locations across 20 States and one Union Territory, as part of a pan-India drive against the circulation and sharing of Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM).
The operation code-named “Megh Chakra” is being carried out following the inputs received from Interpol’s Singapore special unit based on the information received from the authorities in New Zealand.
The CBI has registered two cases alleging that a large number of Indian nationals were involved in the online circulation, downloading and transmission of the CSAM using cloud-based storage. Over 50 persons have come under the scanner.
The searches were carried out in Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Goa, Karnataka, Telangana, and Tamil Nadu, among others. During the raids, the agency seized the electronic devices, including mobile phones and laptops, belonging to the suspects.
Preliminary scrutiny of the devices using cyber forensic tools allegedly revealed that a huge quantity of child pornography material was stored in them. “The suspects are being questioned to identify the child victims and the abusers,” said an agency official, adding that the operation was one of the CBI-led global operations in recent times for a prompt response to online child sexual exploitation cases with international linkages.
The official said the operation sought to collate information from various law enforcement agencies in India, engage with the relevant law enforcement agencies globally and coordinate closely through the Interpol channels on the issue.
Last November, the agency launched a similar exercise code named “Operation Carbon”, in which the suspects in 13 States and one Union Territory were raided. Subsequently, the CBI registered about two dozen cases involving more than 80 people.
The previous operation was conducted at 76 locations across the country.
The persons named in the First Information Reports (FIRs) were booked under the relevant provisions of the Indian Penal Code and the Information Technology Act, for allegedly being part of the syndicates that uploaded, circulated, sold, and viewed CSAM through various social media platforms and groups.
Based on its findings, the CBI later decided to send requests to several countries for sharing and gathering information under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLATs) on those involved in the racket. More than 100 references were made.
Apart from the accused Indian nationals, the other suspects were from countries like Pakistan (36), Canada (35), the United States (35), Bangladesh (31), Sri Lanka (30), Nigeria (28), Azerbaijan (27), Yemen (24), Malaysia (22), Saudi Arabia (19), Indonesia, (19), Egypt (21), United Arab Emirates (19), United Kingdom (17), South Africa (15), Nepal (15), Algeria (17), Iraq (14), Afghanistan (12), Kenya (12), and Oman (12).
The probe had led to the identification of over 50 groups with more than 5,000 offenders, including the nationals of about 100 countries, also including Turkey, Poland, Sudan, South Korea, Uganda, Kuwait, Italy, Germany, Spain, Australia and Romania.