Pascal Taveirne
The trial that eventually led to the doors of five men in Mayo, Westmeath, Wicklow, Clare and Galway, began six years ago in Denmark. Police there arrested a 45-year-old chiropractor who had been sexually abusing his nine-year-old daughter, and then uploading images on to an internet site operated by a network of paedophiles calling themselves the "Fun Club".

Since the late Nineties, 45-year-old Dr Lloyd Alan Emmerson had been using the internet to exchange images of the abuse of his daughter with 25 other European men who were also abusing their daughters, or little girls in their care.

In all, 65 girls aged from two years to 14 were found to have been abused and were taken into care in 2002. Emmerson, who was found to have half a million images, including films of children, was sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment.

One of the men with whom Emmerson was sharing images via the Fun Club bulletin board -- an early version of the popular teenage websites, like MySpace -- was Pascal Taveirne from Bruges in Belgium.

Taveirne was sharing images of himself raping and otherwise sexually abusing his daughters, who were then aged four and five and both described on Fun Club as severely autistic. In one of the videos shared on the internet, one of the little girls is heard referring to her abuser as "daddy" in an accent clearly from the area of northern Belgium, where Bruges lies.

For reasons which remain unclear, Taveirne avoided prosecution at that time and the girls were returned to his care. He went on raping and abusing them.

Belgium has more than 200 local police forces, rather than one integrated force as we have in Ireland.

It has an appalling record in prosecuting paedophile crime, dating from the 1990s when repeated warnings and evidence failed to stop Marc Dutroux -- who abducted six girls and murdered four of them.

Dutroux filmed himself raping the girls, whom he held captive in specially constructed dungeons under his house. Some of the images he made were among the mass of paedophile images that were put up on sites like Fun Club.

Like Dutroux, Taveirne continued to abuse children, despite having come to the notice of the authorities in such a serious scenario. He remained at liberty -- continuing to abuse the girls until August this year, when he was arrested, taken into custody and the girls taken into care.

The more recent events leading up to this began in October last year, when police in Queensland, Australia, arrested nine men aged between 29 and 64 and charged them with a total of 188 offences of abuse and possession of images of child sexual abuse. More than two million images of child exploitation were seized.

The Queensland police noticed than many of the images they uncovered had been produced in Europe. They sent the images and file on their investigations to Interpol, which distributed the material to European police forces.

The EU-wide operation was termed "Koala" because of its origins in Australia.

The EU operation also led to last August's arrest in Italy of 40-year-old Sergio Marzola, a photographer and webmaster. Italian police discovered that Marzola had made contact with Taveirne through the internet last year and had met him at a hotel in Bruges.

In evidence laid against Marzola, Italian police say he paid €250 to let Taveirne's daughters be filmed in lingerie, then €500 to film them naked and subsequently €750 for Taveirne to rape one of them on film.

Marzola was selling the images through internet bulletin boards whose existence was known only to paedophiles. They spend only minutes or even seconds on these boards before making contact and then disappearing into private "chat rooms" to conduct business.

The Italians were shocked to find out that Taveirne had previously come to the attention of the Belgian authorities, but had remained at liberty and in charge of the girls.

The Italians were scathing about the excuses offered by the Belgians, who seemed to be in denial that any of their citizens was involved in a paedophile network, and considered the vast numbers of images being shared on the web as "private collections".

The fact that Taveirne was named in Italy while he was afforded anonymity in Belgium also baffled the Italians.

According to documents forwarded from Belgium to the Italian prosecutors, Taveirne told police that the payments he received for five hours of his daughters being filmed provided him with the same amount of money he made for two weeks' work. His wife, who was also arrested, claimed that the lingerie she supplied for the girls was similar to summer clothing.

Italian police arrested Marzola on August 16 as he was about to emigrate to the Ukraine, where he had bought a house and a studio in the city of Karkov. His travel baggage included a wardrobe of 500 items of "petite-sized'' lingerie; hundreds of DVDs of child abuse and rape; computer equipment; an archive of 30,000 electronic addresses and communications; computers and cameras; and €100,000 in cash.

Italian police believe Marzola was moving to the Ukraine because the country has become a centre for Western paedophiles seeking victims for abuse and exploitation over the internet. Earlier this year, a United Nations report named the Ukraine as one of the worst countries in the world for the sexual exploitation of children and young women.

Paedophile predators openly advertise for "Lolita" models, who are paid as little as €30 per session -- about half the average monthly wage.

Poverty and a highly organised human trafficking network (particularly for the sex trade), combined with extensive government corruption, has made the country a haven for paedophiles.

The UN noted that the apparently insatiable demand by Western European and North American paedophiles for images of young Caucasian girls adds to its attractiveness for these predators.

Marzola is being charged in relation to operating 30 internet sites intended for the sale and exchange of paedophile imagery. The police found that he was charging from €200 to €400 per transaction. Customers were able to send requests for certain types of abuse, or poses, or clothing to be worn.

Among the images of the two Taveirne girls was one of them posing before a poster they had drawn. It was covered in childish drawings of butterflies and love hearts, and bore the inscription: "voor Sergio" (for Sergio).

The main network that Marzola is believed to have set up is referred to in the Italian prosecution documents as the "Zandvoort File". The initial stages of the investigation have concentrated on detecting as many victims as possible of this network, and a reported 23 girls have been taken into care.

Last month Interpol and Europol (the EU police agency) distributed details of credit card payments by over 2,500 suspected paedophiles via the Zandvoort network. Five files were handed over to gardai, who carried out last week's raids and seized computers and other material.

The network operates in much the same way as the "Landslide" network, run from Texas, which was detected by the US Postal Service in 2002 and led to the arrest of around 100 men in Ireland, including Judge Curtin in Kerry and Tim Allen, husband of celebrity cook Darina Allen.