SEOUL — A South Korean court Monday rejected an extradition request by the United States for a South Korean citizen convicted of running one of the world’s biggest child pornography sites on the dark Web.
The South Korean, Son Jong-woo, 24, completed an 18-month sentence in April for operating a child pornography site called “Welcome to Video,” which was inaccessible by regular Web browsers and for which he collected fees paid in Bitcoin from the site’s users, officials said.
The US Justice Department wanted him extradited to face money-laundering and other charges in an American court.
But in a widely monitored ruling, the Seoul High Court said that keeping him in South Korea would help the country in its efforts to track down the users of his site for possible indictment.
The court’s decision Monday was a huge letdown for opponents of child pornography in South Korea who had hoped that Son’s extradition to the United States would help deter sexual crimes in South Korea.
Some of the men in the United States who received child pornography through Welcome to Video have been sentenced to five to 15 years in prison.
In contrast, a lower court in South Korea gave Son only a suspended prison term. An appeals court later sent him to jail, but for only 18 months.
Activists in South Korea, who have been outraged by what they see as the local judiciary’s light punishment of Son had also called for his extradition.
Son operated Welcome to Video from June 2015 until he was arrested in March 2018. Law enforcement officials around the globe have worked together to track the site’s users and have arrested hundreds of people in a dozen countries, most of them South Koreans.
They also rescued at least 23 underage victims in the United States, Britain, and Spain who were being actively abused by users of the site, the Justice Department said in October, when it revealed that Son had been indicted by a federal grand jury in the District of Columbia for running the site.