Durban - Three men who were arrested this week in connection with a child pornography ring operating in and around Durban, allegedly met regularly to share illicit material “over braai meat and beers”.

The men, who cannot be identified until they plead, include a 47-year-old from the Bluff, a 29-year-old from Pinetown and a 35-year-old from Waterfall.

The three apparently met online and became friends.

They were arrested by the KwaZulu-Natal Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences unit on Tuesday and made a brief appearance on Thursday in the Durban Regional Court that deals with sexual offences.

The Pinetown man, who was visibly upset, and shook and wept throughout court proceedings.

The trio was nabbed after he visited a website that was being monitored by the United States’ Homeland Security, the court heard.

Police subsequently raided his home, where they discovered child pornography and he then revealed his two co-accused’s involvement.

On raiding the Bluff man’s home, police discovered illicit images of one of his neighbour’s children. A statement was taken from the child, during which time allegations of rape and sexual assault emerged.

The three men stand accused of accessing, sharing, downloading and distributing child pornography.

The Bluff man is also facing charges of rape, sexual assault, sexual exploitation of a child, grooming and using a child for pornographic purposes. Public prosecutor Jerome Gnanapragas said the State was opposing bail for the men and they were remanded inWestville Prison, for a possible bail application next week.

The Waterfall man requested bail immediately so he could secure a private lawyer, but was told this was not possible.

Family and friends of the accused were in court on Thursday and many of them were emotional.

A spokesman for the police, Brigadier Selvy Mohlala, said on Wednesday the success of the operation leading to the men’s arrests was due to a partnership between the SAPS and the US department of Homeland Security.

Homeland Security regularly monitors the traffic flow to child pornography websites.

Steve Martin, of the US Homeland Security office in Pretoria, said as part of their law enforcement co-operation with countries around the world, the department partnered with South African law enforcement to identify the perpetrators of crimes that affected both countries or had a broader international nexus.

“In this case, based on an investigation and executed search warrant in the United States, child predators were identified in various countries, including South Africa,” he said.

“An investigative lead was provided to SAPS. They acted upon the lead, which resulted in these arrests.”

The Mercury