BANGKOK, Thailand - A Canadian pedophile suspect arrested last year after high-tech detective work and a global manhunt pleaded not guilty Friday to molesting underage boys in Thailand, a Thai court statement said.
Christopher Paul Neil, formerly of Vancouver, was arrested in Thailand on Oct. 19, 2007 after the France-based international police agency Interpol issued a worldwide appeal to identify and apprehend him based on some 200 Internet photos believed to show him carrying out acts of sexual abuse.
In the photos, the face of the perpetrator was digitally obscured, but German police computer experts managed to unscramble the photos so the man's face was recognizable. Interpol circulated the pictures publicly, and from the tips they received identified Neil as the suspect. The boys shown in the photos were believed to be from Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand.
A statement issued by Bangkok Criminal Court, where Neil appeared Friday, said that he pleaded not guilty to charges of taking a child under 15 without parental consent with intent to molest, punishable by up to 20 years in prison; illegal detention, punishable by up to three years; and sexual abuse of a child under 15, punishable by up to 10 years.
When he was arrested, Neil was charged with sexually molesting a nine-year-old Thai boy in 2003. He was subsequently charged with sexually molesting the boy's older brother, who was 14 at the time, according to police.
Shackled at the ankles and dressed in a pale orange prison uniform, Neil was smiling Friday as he was ushered out of the courthouse with other defendants into a prison van after his hearing.
"Have a day nice day, guys," he said to reporters, but did not answer any question about the trial or the charges he faced.
The court set March 10 as the opening day for his trial. Neil has not yet secured a defence lawyer; he said he would find his own, but the court said it would appoint a lawyer if he does not have one by the first hearing, according to the court statement.
Matthew Neil told The Canadian Press from Maple Ridge, B.C., on Friday, that his brother has been in contact with a couple of lawyers and the Canadian embassy there has also been helping with efforts to secure legal counsel.
"It's difficult to find a lawyer that you can trust without actually meeting the person. So the family is trying to find somebody that's trustworthy and appears to be on the level," he said.
He said his brother needs a lawyer by March at least, but "as soon as possible would be ideal."
He also said he's in contact with his brother through letters via the Canadian embassy.
"The embassy has been an invaluable asset that we've been utilitizing. They forward letters to him and then they forward letters from him to us. And then of course we send him money through the embassy which they then put into his... remand account."
The money is used to buy Neil extra food and items such as running shoes and towels.
Matthew Neil added that his brother said in all his letters he remains positive and is confident that he has a good defence.
"In his letters he sounds very positive. But I think under the surface that, you know, as days pass, I imagine it's getting less and less positive."
He said his brother passes the time by reading books and working out and is learning more of the Thai language. Embassy staff also visit him once a month but none of his family members have been over to Thailand to visit as of yet.
Matthew Neil said he saw his brother on the television news Friday.
"He looked O-K on the news. I mean it's never nice to see your brother in... chains and bare feet," said Matthew Neil. "He hadn't lost much weight. He looked as good as can be expected when you're wearing orange and chains."
Neil, a schoolteacher, lived in Thailand from 2002 to early 2004, according to police. Three Thai youths contacted police after seeing Neil's photograph on television, claiming he had paid each of them 500 baht to 1,000 baht ($16-32) to perform oral sex on him in 2003. They were aged nine, 13 and 14 at the time of their alleged abuse.
In Canada, Neil's family has said they will do everything they can to support him and have called for his extradition. Canada has sex tourism laws allowing prosecution for crimes committed overseas.