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Globally-known 'Swirl Face' pedophile could face toughest penalties yet for crimes

Canadian authorities are making their first real attempt at prosecuting a globally-known convicted pedophile under rarely used child-sex tourism laws.

Christopher Neil was the subject of Interpol’s largest international manhunt at the time of his arrest in 2007 and ultimately imprisoned for five years in Thailand.

Until now he hasn’t face charges in Canada for several allegations in connection of crimes overseas.

The British Columbia man briefly made a first appearance in provincial court Monday to face five charges stemming from accusations of sex offences involving children in Cambodia in 2003. He’s also accused of child pornography-related crimes in B.C., resulting in five additional charges.

The charges based on investigations abroad are significant, Neil’s lawyer said outside court.

“From a legal standpoint, Crown was telling me today there’s only been three or four other charges of this kind in all of Canada,” said Mark Thompson.

“I suspect he’ll plead not guilty.”

Wearing a black, short-sleeve shirt and jeans, Neil strode into the prisoner’s enclosure in Port Coquitlam provincial court before lawyers requested a bail hearing be set for April 10.

The less than two minute appearance was sedate compared to the flurry that ensued when police paraded him past media in Thailand in 2007.

Neil’s image became ubiquitous on major TV news networks owing to a flashy graphic released by computer experts unravelling a distorted picture of his face, leading to him being dubbed “Swirl Face.”

Gravity of the more than decade old accusations is apparent in how that file is currently viewed. At a mass gathering of law enforcement experts in London in early October, Interpol cited its search for Neil as an example of a classic international investigation.

In September 2012, he was returned to Canada after being released early from a nine year sentence for sexually assaulting two boys.

The subject matter of the new charges was not covered in the case prosecuted in Thailand, said Neil MacKenzie, spokesman for B.C.’s Criminal Justice Branch.

It’s possible Neil could be punished much more harshly if convicted here in his home country.

Each of the five Cambodia-linked charges — two each of sexual touching and invitation to sexual touching, as well as production of child pornography — carry a 10 year maximum sentence.

After being shunted back to Canada, Neil was placed on strict conditions meant to protect children based on his Thailand convictions.

He is also set to appear in court May 1 on separate charges based on disobeying those restrictions after police say they found devices capable of connecting to the Internet in his possession. He is accused of accessing child pornography.

A psychiatric assessment was ordered and its evaluation is expected to be revealed during that court date.

Neil was arrested Friday following investigations by Vancouver police and the RCMP’s child exploitation unit. He remains in custody.