Canadian paedophile suspect denies Thai charges

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BANGKOK, Oct 20 (Reuters) Canadian paedophile suspect Christopher Neil has denied charges that he molested underage children in Thailand, police today said, a day after a global manhunt ended with his arrest in a dusty Thai town.

A Thai court ordered Neil, also accused of raping young boys in Vietnam and Cambodia after being unmasked by nifty police computer work and hunted in a unique Internet appeal, detained for another 12 days for further investigation.

The 32-year-old is facing charges of molesting underage children, depriving children of parental care and restraint of freedom, Police Major-General Wimol Powin said.

''He denied the charges but has not said much more,'' Wimol told reporters who were barred from the court hearing.

If found guilty, he could spend up to 20 years in jail.

Neil, caught yesterday in the northeast province of Nakhon Ratchasima, 250 km (150 miles) from Bangkok and well off the normal tourist trail, said nothing as he left the court wearing a red-striped t-shirt, cap and sunglasses.

Neil was no stranger to Thailand, having once taught in a Bangkok language school, but his hiding place was revealed by a trace on the mobile phone of his 25-year-old Thai boyfriend, identified by transvestites in the seedy beach town of Pattaya.

Thai police issued a warrant for Neil's arrest on Thursday, a week after he fled South Korea, after two Thai teenagers accused him of paying for oral sex when they were nine and 14, grounds for prosecution under Thai law.

Detectives in various countries had been hunting Neil since German police discovered photographs on the Internet three years ago of a man sexually abusing 12 boys in Vietnam and Cambodia.

His face had been scrambled with a digital swirling pattern, but German police computer experts managed to unravel the ''Swirly Face'' disguise and Interpol issued an unprecedented worldwide appeal through the Internet for information on who the man was.

EXTRADITION? Police said Neil had contacted the Canadian embassy and phoned his relatives in Canada where Matthew Neil said he was relieved his brother was in custody.

''He looks tired,'' Matthew said of the pictures of his brother after the arrest. He said he ''cannot imagine'' what is going through his brother's mind.

''I would like to see him come back to Canada, but I understand it involves an international incident and allegations,'' he told reporters.

Thai police said Neil could be extradited once he had served his sentence. Cambodia said it also wanted to question Neil and would charge him if police there could put a case together.

Vietnam might also want to question him.

British Columbia Attorney General Wally Oppal disclosed on Friday that Canadian police had been investigating Neil, who had also worked in the Vancouver area as a teacher and attended seminary school.

Oppal's spokesman later said that did not mean they were investigating possible incidents in Canada.

''It's our understanding that Interpol raised issues related to Mr. Neil with (Canadian police). This does not mean there is any substantive basis to draw any conclusions regarding Mister Neil's activities within Canada,'' Shawn Robins said.

No charges have been filed in Canada and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police refused to comment.

It is illegal for Canadians to visit other countries for the purpose of having sex with children, but the 5-year-old ''sex tourism'' law has been rarely used and questions have been raised about its constitutionality.

It was too early to speculate if Canada would attempt to extradite Neil, Oppal said.

REUTERS SS BST1232

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