BANGKOK, Thailand – A Canadian schoolteacher who is the object of a global manhunt for the alleged sexual abuse of at least a dozen young Asian boys may be avoiding arrest with the help of friends, Thai police said Thursday.
Thai authorities issued an arrest warrant Thursday for Christopher Paul Neil, after determining that he may have sexually abused boys in the kingdom, in addition to the dozen Cambodian and Vietnamese boys, some as young as 6, whom Interpol suspects he has abused.
Neil, 32, has taught at various schools in Thailand, South Korea and Vietnam since at least 2000.
He flew to Thailand last week from South Korea, where he suddenly abandoned a teaching job. Cameras at the immigration counter captured his image as he arrived at Bangkok's international airport.
Thai police appeared to have few leads on exactly where Neil might be, though they had earlier expressed confidence that he would not escape their dragnet.
Police Maj. Gen. Wimol Powintara said Neil lived in Thailand for nearly two years in 2002- 2003 and is believed to have a wide network of friends and acquaintances in the country.
"That's one of the reasons why he is so hard to catch. He could be hiding in anyone's apartment or any obscure place," Wimol said at a press conference.
Wimol said the arrest warrant for the suspect is based on the testimony of one boy, describing how the victim — 9 years old at the time — said he was lured from an Internet cafe by a Thai man who took him to Neil's apartment in Bangkok.
He told The Associated Press the Thai warrant has been submitted to Interpol so it could issue a so-called "Red Notice," which is circulated worldwide requesting the subject's arrest in order to be extradited.
Wimol said posters of the suspect had been prepared and hotels and tourism agencies were asked to help in the search for Neil.
"He could be anywhere in Thailand," said Wimol. "We appeal to the public and the media to help us look out for this man," he said.
Police said one of the focuses of their search is the town of Pattaya — a popular seaside resort about 110 kilometers (70 miles) southeast of Bangkok — known for its beaches, thriving sex industry and high crime rate.
Neil was identified by Thai police earlier this week after digitally scrambled images of him with victims were unscrambled and then released publicly by Interpol in an unprecedented international manhunt.
Three Thai youths who were 9, 13 and 14 at the time came forward Wednesday to tell police that Neil had allegedly paid them to perform oral sex on him in 2003, Wimol said earlier, adding that the Canadian also had sex with at least one other underaged male.
The boys said the suspect showed them pornographic images on his computer at his apartment in Bangkok, and paid them each 500 baht to 1,000 baht for sexual relations (US$16 to US$32; euro11 to euro22), Wimol said.
The boys got in touch with police after spotting Neil's photograph on television when his identity was revealed Tuesday by Thai authorities.
In Seoul, Choi Ki-hwan, an official at South Korea's National Police Agency, said Thursday that Neil first arrived in South Korea in 2000 and stayed for a total of four years and six months, based on records from the immigration office.
Police have not received any reports that Neil sexually molested children while in South Korea, Choi said.
The hunt for Neil began three years ago when German police discovered about 200 online photographs of a man sexually abusing children. His face was digitally obscured, but German police were able to reconstruct a recognizable image of the man who has eluded police for years, and Interpol circulated those images last week.
The suspect was identified with the help of hundreds of tips from people who responded to an unprecedented appeal by Interpol for public assistance.
More clues about the suspect's background emerged with the discovery of a page on the social networking Web site MySpace apparently created by Neil. Interpol officials said they believe the page was kept by Neil.
"Been kicking around Asia for the past five years, teaching mainly and finding other forms of mischief," read the profile, which also described him as "5 feet, 11 inches tall, slim and slender."
"I love teaching, can't get enough of it really," the entry says, going on to describe his passion for drama, musicals and karaoke.
Separately, friends have described Neil as outgoing and fun to be around. Co-workers at international schools gave mixed reviews of his teaching skills, but all described a man they believed to be harmless.
Before teaching in Asia, Neil had worked as a chaplain in Canada, counseling teens.
Canadian authorities have said they would seek his extradition. Canada has sex tourism laws allowing prosecution for crimes committed abroad.