Author: Roger Boyes in Charleroi
Businessman is fourth to be charged as fears increase of international ring.
BELGIAN police are investigating the possibility of a major East-West link in the European child sex business after charging a fourth suspected member of a paedophile ring.
Jean-Michel Nihoul, a Brussels businessman, was hustled into a court yesterday to be charged with criminal association with Marc Dutroux, who has already led police to the bodies of two eight-year-old girls and another suspected accomplice.
Suspects are being moved around various courts in the area to keep them safe from hostile crowds.
The defence team for Nihoul, who denies any connection with a paedophilia racket, says he merely lent his car to Dutroux.
Dutroux’s second wife, Michelle Martin, has been charged with being an accomplice in the unlawful abduction and illegal imprisonment of children.
Many clues suggest that the Belgian paedophilia scandal is part of an international network. A 59-year-old Dutch businessman living in Belgium has been held for questioning, bolstering press speculation that Dutch pornography groups have been spilling over the border.
But the most intriguing lead comes from the confession by Dutroux – a convicted child rapist – that he abducted two teenage girls in Ostend last year.
The girls, 19-year-old Eefje Lambrecks and 17-year-old An Marchal, were seen talking to a Czech girl in the port shortly before they were snatched. One theory, partly supported by Dutroux’s confession, is that the girls were sold into a pornography and prostitution ring operating from Prague. Czech police say there is no evidence to support that.
The abduction of Western girls eastwards would run counter to the trend of the past five years, which has seen hundreds of Central and East European girls being sold to Western brothels and nightclubs. But the paedophilia business is more complex than prostitution rackets: adult women, who can work hard as prostitutes, are sometimes traded for abducted children.
Leads are being followed up in Germany, The Netherlands and France. Britain has been asked for technical help, in particular with the search techniques used to detect buried bodies in the murder inquiry involving Fred and Rosemary West, as well as for advice on the structure of paedophile gangs.
The Belgian police, for the first time, have also pooled their information on 15 children who have disappeared over the past six years. Seven of those are known to have been killed.
There seems to be no indication that Britain is involved in this apparent paedophile web, although Belgian police have been alert to a possible British connection since the arrest last year of John Stamford. He was head of the Spartacus International Paedophile Group and died during his trial before a Belgian court last December.
Belgian contacts with the German Bureau of Criminal Investigation confirm the possible involvement of Russian groups.
The search for an international connection partly reflects a Belgian reluctance to accept that such crimes can be committed by Belgians on their own children. But it is also in the nature of organised paedophilia to move across frontiers and exploit differences in the law.
“They are very efficient in the sense that they make the best use of new technical possibilities such as the Internet,” Raymond Kendall, Secretary-General of Interpol, said yesterday. “In many cases, national legislation did not foresee the effects of the Internet and lags behind.”
Dutroux, who is charged with kidnapping and illegal imprisonment of children, owns 11 houses. Yet he was an unemployed electrician with no legal source of income, apart from the dole.