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348 arrested in global child sexual abuse ring

Toronto police Insp. Joanna Beaven-Desjardins speaks at a Project Spade news conference on Nov. 14, 2013. CITYNEWS.

An international child sexual abuse investigation, dubbed Project Spade, took police to more than 50 countries, freed 386 children and led to the arrest of 348 people.

The ringleader, police said Thursday, was in Toronto.

The accused allegedly paid others to have children filmed in eastern European countries to produce the videos and images he would sell online at AzovFilms.com.

“The investigation revealed that this individual was running an exploitation movie production and distribution company from a Toronto address,” Insp. Joanna Beaven-Desjardins of the sex crimes unit said.

AzovFilms.com allegedly sold films – both over the mail and online – that were consistent with child pornography, Beaven-Desjardins said. During its years of operation, the company took in $4 million.

The investigation began in October 2010, when undercover police made contact online with a Toronto man accused of sharing graphic images of young boys.

Toronto police worked with dozens of agencies, including the United States Postal Inspection Service, in their investigation.

On May 1, 2011, police executed search warrants around Toronto, one of which was at Azov Films. Police said the studio was located in the west end and 45 terabytes of video were seized.

Brian Way, the alleged ringleader and the man police allegedly contacted online in October 2010, was also arrested on May 1 after a seven-month investigation. Police say Way, 42, is the owner-operator of Azov Films and more pornography was found at his home.

Beaven-Desjardins said the pornography allegedly found at his home “detailed horrific sexual acts against very young children, some of the worst that [officers] had ever viewed. “

Way faces 24 charges, including instructing a criminal organization. It’s the first time in Canada this charge has been laid in relation to a child exploitation investigation.

Of the people arrested, 50 are from Ontario and another 58 are from other parts of Canada. Police say school teachers, doctors, volunteers, pastors and priests were among those arrested.  Police say 76 were arrested in the United States and 164 internationally. The investigation is ongoing and there will be further arrests, Beaven-Desjardins said.