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Robert de Vries, the man believed to have spent 20 years distributing large amounts of child pornography across the globe from his Johannesburg home, has been sentenced to an effective 15 years behind bars.

The sentencing has also attracted the attention of the US Department of Homeland Security, as US agents were the ones who caught De Vries trying to peddle his wares to US citizens.

De Vries, 57, was convicted last week on 107 charges of distribution, manufacturing and possession of child pornography at the Johannesburg High Court, after eight years of court proceedings and investigation. While he initially applied to have his bail ex- tended pending his sentencing proceedings this week, this was denied after new images of child pornography were found on his computer and hard drives during a police raid.

Read: Child porn king nailed on 107 criminal charges

He was caught in 2010 by US government agents distributing more than 296000 images, stories and videos of under-age children in compromising positions.

However, it took years before the court found him to be definitively linked to the pornography. Throughout his trial, De Vries shifted the blame to a series of room-mates who had been living at his home during the time-frames when he was most active in his distribution.

However, Judge Colin Lamont found this claim of a conspiracy against De Vries to be unbelievable, considering the amount of evidence provided by State investigators linking him to the porn and its distribution.

During sentencing arguments earlier this week, State prosecutor, advocate Maro Papachristoforou, brought child abuse expert Dr Shaheda Omar to the stand to explain the potentially disastrous side-effects that child pornography distribution could cause.

Omar said as child pornography made its way into the hands of paedophiles, it desensitised them.

The subliminal message sent out to the paedophile was that sexual acts with children were fine, as they are normalised by the images. The children used to create the pornography would be left with unimaginably deep emotional scars.

Papachristoforou argued that the court needed to give a harsh sentence to De Vries to fall in line with global standards of sentencing for such crimes. However, Judge Lamont was seemingly angered by this argument, saying he would “not be intimidated” by foreign jurisdiction.

Gesturing to the group of US embassy officials in the court gallery, the prose- cutor argued that if the sentence was not strong enough, similar cases involving foreign countries would likely see the accused extradited and prose-cuted overseas.

But Judge Lamont was also unwilling to listen to this argument, saying that this could be a good thing, as local authorities would not have to deal with such criminals.

The judge questioned both prosecution and defence on what they believed was an appropriate sentence for De Vries, as there was no definitive minimum sentence for the charges in South African legislation.

Papachristoforou suggested 25 to 30 years based on the seriousness of the charges and their number, but defence advocate Norman Makhubela asked the judge to consider De Vries’s age, suggesting 10 years.

On Friday, Judge Lamont sentenced De Vries to 835 years in prison based on the sheer number of counts, but that most of the dozens of 15-year sentences would run concurrently, meaning an effective 15 years in prison.

The Saturday Star