A man the FBI has called “the largest facilitator of child porn in the world” will get legal aid to fight his extradition to the United States, following a High Court judges’ ruling that any money he allegedly has would be considered the proceeds of crime.
Eric Eoin Marques, who is alleged to be the owner and administrator of an anonymous hosting site known as Freedom Hosting, is wanted by US authorities to face charges relating to conspiring to distribute and advertise child pornography.
The 28-year-old, with an address at Mountjoy Square in central Dublin, has been in custody since his arrest in August last year after he was refused bail over concerns he represented a flight risk and that he may abscond or interfere with evidence in the case.
The charges against 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.
Marques failed to obtain legal aid two weeks ago on grounds that he had earned vast sums of money in recent years and an “unexplained six figure sum” of approximately €300,000 was unaccounted for.
He had told the court during evidence that he gave approximately €250,000 to his Romanian girlfriend and spent the remainder on living expenses such as McDonalds, petrol and escorts.
Mr Justice John Edwards said there were discrepancies between money that could be accounted for and money which seemed to go through bank accounts of Marques analysed by gardaí.
There had been withdrawels from the accounts, the judge said, and Marques claimed he gave substantial sums of money to friends including his Romanian girlfriend.
In the absence of any corroborating evidence, Mr Justice Edwards said, the court had to have regard to the possibility that he may have access to these funds.
“Then it had occurred to me,” the judge said, “even if that were the case, wouldn't they be the proceeds of crime?”
“We don't know if they exist,” he said, but if they did and were located they were likely to be liable to seizure.
Counsel for the DPP, Patrick McGrath SC, said the court had been put in an invidious position by the failure of Marques to provide corroborating evidence for the whereabouts of the funds.
The onus was on Marques, Mr McGrath said, and on the basis of his evidence two weeks ago, he hadn't satisfied the court that he qualified for legal aid.
It seemed the judge said that Marques could not produce corroborating evidence because he didn't pay tax or comply with corporate governance requirements. “I don't believe he has any resources” other than possible “hidden” funds, the judge said.
“Having regard to the profound implications for him” and “in the interests of justice,” the judge granted Marques a recommendation for legal aid and backdated it to the date of the extradition request.
The issue was discussed prior to the resumption of an application for judicial review of the decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions not to prosecute Marques in Ireland.
Barrister Micheál P O'Higgins SC, for Marques, said he was looking for the reasons why the DPP decided not to prosecute his client in Ireland to “enable us properly to challenge the decision”.
Counsel said, “the hub of this disgraceful activity was in Ireland”. Marques was arrested here, questioned here, the investigating gardaí were here, his family was here and the cost of lengthy extradition proceedings could be avoided if he was prosecuted here.
He said the DPP had a duty to prosecute Marques as there was a case that he should be charged on the face of the evidence, that it was in the public interest to do so and there was an offer of an early guilty plea.
Citing legal principle, counsel said a person affected by administrative decisions has a right to know the reason for the decision.
“On all of these grounds I have more than an arguable case,” Mr O'Higgins said, to secure leave for judicial review.
Counsel for the DPP, Patrick McGrath SC, said Marques did not have a right to be prosecuted or a right to not be prosecuted.
He said numerous jurisdictions would have an interest in prosecuting him. There was a substantial connection with the United States, the computer server was based in France and the material was downloaded in other jurisdictions, Mr McGrath said.
Neither the director nor Marques had a choice over which jurisdiction he should be prosecuted in, Mr McGrath said, and he described the application as “forum shopping”.
He referred to the DPP's response to a letter from Marques' former solicitor in which he intimated his willingness to plead guilty to the alleged offences in Dublin District Court.
The DPP said it had “very carefully considered” the matter and decided not to prosecute having consulted with gardaí and legal counsel, Mr McGrath argued.
Mr Justice Edwards said he would re-list the matter for April 29, the second day of the next law term, at which point he expected to have his decision ready. He remanded Marques on continuing custody and thanked counsel for their assistance.
If convicted in America, Marques faces spending the remainder of his natural life in prison as the four charges could result in a sentence totaling 100 years.