The trial for the alleged owners, admins, and staff members of a dark web child abuse forum will run at least four months longer than the courts had planned, a spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office revealed. German authorities have been prosecuting Elysium members since the forum takedown in 2017. The forum administration and other staff members have been presenting unique challenges for the prosecution and have been continually slowing down the judicial process.
In June 2017, the German Federal Criminal Police Office raided almost 60 houses in an operation that targeted users of Elysium, the largest dark web child abuse forum in Germany. The raids resulted in more than 50 arrests for assorted child pornography and distribution crimes. Since the first series of raids and subsequent arrests, German authorities have been arresting other Elysium members for the same crimes. The alleged staff and creators managed to avoid the news until recently, though. Since the BKA had replaced the homepage of the forum with a seizure banner, nobody doubted that the BKA had also arrested some of the staff members. After months of silence, German authorities announced a court date for four suspected staff members.
The prosecution had built a case against suspects from Hesse and Baden-Wuerttemberg. One suspect had been living in Bavaria when authorities raided him for crimes committed in connection with the prolific dark web forum. A 58-year-old from the district of Tübingen in Baden-Württemberg allegedly served as an administrator in the eyes of the law but had no role as a staff member on the forum. Instead, according to the prosecutors, the 58-year-old had created the forum and built the physical hardware that hosted the forum. He gave the hardware and forum ownership to a 40-year-old from the district of Limburg-Weilburg in Hesse. Law enforcement raided the 40-year-old’s house and found the computer equipment in the garage attached to the house. According to his own testimony, he had only allowed the creator of the forum to use his garage as a storage space for the server hardware.
In addition to the two administrators or senior staff members, the prosecution also accused a 47-year-old from Baden-Württemberg of moderating the forums and chat features. A 62-year-old from Bavaria also moderated the forums, the prosecutors alleged. The man from Bavaria is also an active party in a separate Elysium case in Germany. In the related case, an Elysium member was charged for serious sexual abuse in multiple instances for sexually assaulting both of his children. That man’s arrest led to the discovery that the father had allowed another Elysium member to rape his children. That member, investigators learned, was the 62-year-old alleged forum moderator.
Some of the alleged staff members have argued that their participation had no sexual motivation. Instead, they claimed, they had simply wanted to be a part of a community. Similarly, the 58-year-old argued that he had only created a forum and built a machine capable of hosting the forum. He admitted that he had known the purpose of the forum after investigators discovered evidence that the man had not simply created a generic forum for someone; as the forum grew, the 58-year-old had to help with security updates. He also had to frequently ensure the forum could handle the amount of user activity. In only a few months, the forum had more than 100,000 registered user accounts, making it one of the fastest growing child abuse forums in existence. Of course, the actual number of members was much lower than 100,000 – prosecutors have estimated that the forum had roughly 60,000 active users.
Due to the complexity of the case, the trial has been rescheduled to run through March 2019. The trial was originally scheduled to end in November 2018, according to a spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office. The evidence against some of the suspects is weaker than the evidence against others. For instance, the 62-year-old Bavarian man who allegedly moderated the forum and raped the children of another Elysium member accidentally uploaded videos of the assaults that featured enough of his face for law enforcement to make a positive identification. In the meantime, the prosecution will be strengthening their case against the other alleged forum staff.