A global hunt for a British Columbia man suspected of sexually assaulting young Asian boys ended Friday when police tracked him down in rural Thailand.
Thai police found Christopher Paul Neil of Maple Ridge, B.C., in the northern province of Nakhon Ratchasima, where investigators say he was staying with a Thai friend.
"Bingo! We've got him," police Maj.-Gen. Wimol Powintara told the Associated Press as he announced the arrest.
The arrest comes nearly two weeks after Interpol issued a rare international appeal in a three-year-long investigation to try to identify a man who appeared in 200 photos posted online depicting the sexual abuse of young Asian boys.
The man's face was obscured by a digital swirl, but computer specialists in Germany managed to reconstruct the photos.
Interpol named Neil as their prime suspect in the case Tuesday, anddays lateran arrest warrant was issued in Thailand, where two alleged victims had comeforward.
B.C. Attorney General Wally Oppal also confirmed Friday that the RCMP was already investigating Neil, after receiving complaints about him that were related to activities involving young boys there.
Oppal said the B.C. investigation was underway by the time Interpol identified Neil after unscramblingthe digitally altered photos.
B.C. is expected to ask for his extradition, Oppal said.
Following Neil's arrest early Friday, the32-year-old schoolteacher was driven to national police headquarters in Bangkok, about 120 kilometres away.
Ahorde of reporters shouted questions at him as Thai police walked him into a news conference handcuffed and with a blue T-shirt draped over his head.
Once inside, he took the shirt off his head and sat quietly staring ahead, wearing sunglasses and a white T-shirt, with more than a dozen Thai officers standing behind him. Neil was silent throughout the 20-minute news conference.
Neil faces charges in connection with one case of alleged abuse in Thailand, but police say they are trying to identify other alleged victims in the 200 photos police believe were mostly taken in Vietnam and Cambodia.
His charges include:
- Detention of a child under 15 without parental consent.
- Taking a child under 15 from his parents without consent.
- Sexual abuse of a child under 15.
For those charges, Thai police say he faces five to 20 years behind bars.
Police said a boy alleged he was lured to Neil's apartment in Bangkok by a Thai man. Neil lived in Thailand from 2002 to early 2004, police said.
While Thai police and Interpol indicated Neil would likely be prosecuted in Thailand before being extradited to Canada, Canadian authorities have said they would seek his extradition to try him at home.
Canada has sex tourism laws that allow prosecutionof crimes committed abroad.
RCMP officials said Thursday they are conducting a "very active" investigation into Neil's activities in Canada and overseas.
Mounties areconducting interviewsin parts of Canada where Neil lived and worked before he started teaching in Asia, including the Greenwood Air Cadet Summer Training Centre in Nova Scotia where Neil worked as a chaplain and counsellor.
Canada has an extradition treaty with Thailand, which could allow Neil to be tried here.
If charges against Neil are laid in Canada, it would be up to the attorney general of British Columbia, Neil's home province, to request extradition or allow him to be tried in Thailand, RCMP Staff-Sgt. Rick Greenwood told the Canadian Press.
Schoolteacher in many countries
Neil's image was captured last Thursday entering Bangkok'sinternational airporton a one-way ticket from South Korea, where he had left his most recent teaching job.
Thatimage of Neil in the airport with a shaved head was publicized around the world and border guards in Thailand and neighbouring countries were on the lookout for him.
"It's just great that he's been arrested. It's a very good example of international police co-operation," said Mick Moran, an Interpol case officer,as he commended Thai police for their work.
Neil taught at various schools in Thailand, South Korea and Vietnam since at least 2000.
On Thursday, Interpol, the France-based global police organization, issued an international wanted persons notice.
The agency issued the so-called red notice after Thai authorities issued an arrest warrant earlier in the day as part of a global search for Neil.
The Interpol red notice seeks the arrest or provisional arrest of a wanted person with a view to extradition.