3 Aug 2018

Millionaire told police he was helping parents after streaming abuse

4:54 pm on 3 August 2018

A multi-millionaire businessman told police he was helping poor Filipino parents when he paid them to sexually abuse their children in online videos.

Entrance to the High Court in Auckland

Entrance to the High Court in Auckland Photo: justice.govt.nz

Martin Henry Lawes, the former chair of the Takapuna community board, watched the movies from his home on Auckland's North Shore.

Today, he admitted charges of dealing with a person under 18 for sexual exploitation and importing and possessing child sex images when he appeared at the High Court in Auckland.

Lawes spent more than $100,000 on photos and online sex videos between 2008 and 2017, and he would go on to tell police the money was nothing to him because he was a millionaire.

The vast majority of those were adult live-stream videos but evidence gathered by the police shows Lawes also asked for and paid for videos involving children.

During the live-stream Lawes would direct what he wanted the children to do by typing instructions.

Some of the messages are included in court documents. They were explicit and RNZ will not publish them.

One of the people Lawes was in contact with shared photos and videos of her own children aged 3, 4, and 7, as well as her 13-year-old neighbour.

Over a year, Lawes exhanged 6000 online messages with her.

Lawes tried to cover his tracks. He deleted messages. He also used aliases to create email and chat accounts. He even used his wife's maiden name in an attempt to hide his true identity.

Lawes was arrested after Filipino authorities arrested five adults who were running a live-streaming child sex-ring. Twelve young people were rescued. They were aged between seven and 19. Eleven were aged under 15.

Lawes made 36 payments to accounts held in the names of three of the five child sex-ring leaders, totalling more than $2400.

Police seized three computers belonging to Lawes. A search found objectionable photos of children being sexually abused.

Investigators also uncovered messages between Lawes and members of the child sex-ring where there was talk about photos.

Court documents also showed the police found messages between Lawes and an adult. They talk about exchanging a sex video of a girl in exchange for money for school books.

Police said live-streaming child abuse was a growing problem worldwide, particularly in poor South-East Asian areas where there was poverty and a low-level of child protection.

The Philippines is one of the worst. Children abused in the videos received around $3 each.

In an interview with the police, Lawes said he was helping the people supplying the photos and videos as they lived in poverty and he was giving them money.

He went on to say that he was being exploited by the people in the Philippines - as opposed to the children that he paid to watch being sexually abused.

Lawes' name will be added to the child sex offender's register.

He is on bail at his $1.2 million North Shore home until he is sentenced next month.