Wednesday 20 September 2017

Alleged child porn facilitator refused bail in High Court

Second time bail refused to Eric Eoin Marques

Eric Eoin Marques
Eric Eoin Marques

Brian Kavanagh

An Irishman described by an FBI Special Agent as “the largest facilitator of child porn in the world” has been refused bail for a second time at the High Court.

Mr Justice John Edwards this afternoon said that having taken “considerable time” to review the evidence in the case he was not disposed to grant bail to Eric Eoin Marques, who is wanted in the United States on charges relating to conspiring to distribute and advertise child pornography, and advertising and distributing child pornography.

He said concerns that Mr Marques may abscond or interfere with evidence were such that he could not grant him bail even on a regime of strict conditions.

The 28-year-old made no reaction to the judgement but looked at his family as he was led away from court, having heard it was unlikely his case would be heard before 2014.

The charges against Mr Marques relate to images on over a hundred "anonymous websites" described as being extremely violent, graphic and depicting the rape and torture of pre-pubescent children.

The websites in question have "thousands of members" who have posted "millions of images" of child pornography. Some the children involved are infants, the FBI claim.

On Thursday the extradition court heard from FBI Special Agent Brooke Donahue, who described Mr Marques as "the largest facilitator of child porn in the world”.

Spc Agt Donahue said it was alleged that an examination of Mr Marques’ home computer by gardai showed that as well as hosting and facilitating the child pornography websites, Mr Marques was also visiting the sites, had direct knowledge of what he was hosting and had administrator access to one site.

He told Counsel for the Attorney General, Mr Patrick McGrath SC, it was also alleged that Mr Marques was attempting to gain access to foreign website hosting companies using a fraudulent image of a United States passport.

The court heard that Marques had “substantial financial resources” – with $1.5 million passing through one bank account - and had searched the internet about whistleblower Edward Snowden and about obtaining a Russian Visa. 

Last month Mr Justice Paul Gilligan refused to grant bail to Mr Marques, with an address at Mountjoy Square in central Dublin, until the extradition request has been determined.

Investigating gardai and the FBI both objected to bail being granted on the grounds that Mr Marques represented a flight risk and there was a fear of destruction of evidence.

Returning judgment this afternoon, Mr Justice Edwards said that a person awaiting trial had a presumption in favour of bail, but in Marques’ case this presumption had been rebutted to the extent that it was not possible to grant the applicant bail either unconditionally or on conditions.

Mr Justice Edwards said he took in to account Marques’ lack of previous convictions and his family ties in Ireland; noting the mother of the applicant was willing to offer a very substantial security on her son’s behalf.

He said he had regard to the fact that Marques’ two passports were in the possession of the State, that his two US bank accounts had been frozen and that he had very little in his Irish bank account.

Mr Justice Edwards said he had also taken in to consideration that Mr Marques was “very unlikely to get a hearing this side of Christmas”.

However, Mr Justice Edwards said the case against Marques could fairly be characterised as “strong”, while the applicant was facing charges which were "way up there" in terms of seriousness and could carry very substantial sentences upon conviction.

He said it was a matter of “deep concern” to the court that Mr Marques had access to a false passport and had exhibited a willingness to present himself as someone he is not.

Mr Justice Edwards said there was strong evidence that Marques had previously attempted to interfere with the Freedom Hosting Server he is alleged to have owned and administrated, while there was also evidence he had prevented gardai from gaining access to his computer.

He said there was evidence Marques represented a flight risk as he had the financial resources to flee and his “very considerable technical know-how” and rare computer skill meant he was capable of being employed anywhere in the world.

Mr Justice Edwards said the fact that Marques could make money quickly and easily meant freezing his accounts was meaningless in terms of imposing any kind of restraint.

He said he did not find Marques’ explanation for his internet searches on Edward Snowden convincing, and there were “legitimate concerns” that the applicant made an effort to find a location where he could not be easily extradited from.

The FBI alleges that Mr Marques was the owner and administrator of an anonymous hosting site known as Freedom Hosting that was a “sophisticated, huge transnational operation”.

The High Court heard evidence that this operated of a server space which was allegedly paid for by an account in Eric Marques’ name from a US bank account, and the billing address was through a private mailbox facility in Las Vegas assigned to Eric Marques.

The court heard that if convicted Mr Marques faces spending the remainder of his natural life in prison as the four charges could result in a sentence totalling 100 years.

Mr Justice Edwards remanded Mr Marques in custody to appear before the High Court on October 22nd.

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