A former North Shore community board chairman has pleaded guilty to paying for access to live child sex shows but says he was a multi-millionaire helping his poverty-stricken victims.

Martin Henry Lawes appeared in the High Court at Auckland today before Justice Graham Lang.

Lawes, the former chairman of the Takapuna Community Board of the now defunct North Shore City Council, pleaded guilty to three counts of entering into a dealing involving people under 18 for sex, one charge of being knowingly concerned in the importation of objectionable publications, and one charge of possessing an objectionable publication.

He was due to go to trial in February next year.

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Lawes was arrested last September and a Herald source said it was a result of an investigation into an international child pornography operation led by the FBI in the US.

Lawes paid a significant amount of money to enable him to access live child sex shows, which were filmed in Asia and streamed in New Zealand on his computers.

He will be sentenced in September.

Martin Henry Lawes arriving at the North Shore District Court for an earlier appearance. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Martin Henry Lawes arriving at the North Shore District Court for an earlier appearance. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Court documents, provided to the Herald, outlined Lawes' offending.

Prior to 2008, Lawes was using the alias "Tony Henry" online and in 2015 created a Yahoo email account under that name.

Using his alias, Lawes made contact with other internet users in the Philippines and asked several woman to perform sexual acts on a webcam for him.

In return for the "sex shows", Lawes would wire funds to his internet contacts in South-East Asia.

Between 2008 and 2017, Lawes sent about $100,000 to people in the Philippines using PayPal and Western Union before his offending was exposed during a multi-agency investigation.

In November 2015, five adults were arrested in Illigan City in the Philippines for running a live child-sex streaming service online.

Twelve girls were rescued from the horrific conditions.

Lawes was later found to be making payments to the leaders of the child-sex ring.

In September 2017, police seized three devices from Lawes' home and when the computers were searched by New Zealand Customs, dozens of objectionable publications were found.

Hundreds of images of young and teenage children, some potentially as young as 3, were found on his computer.

Online chat and email communications also show Lawes was, at times, asking how old the children were and directing what he wanted his victims to do.

Typically the "shows" involved one or more children performing sexual acts on themselves or others, however, some also involved adults with children.

Also using Skype, his offending spanned from at least 2011 to 2017 but he was not charged with any offending identified prior to 2013, in accordance with the Customs and Excise Act.

When interviewed by police, Lawes stressed he mostly viewed shows involving adults and said the money he sent was not significant because he was a multi-millionaire.

He also said he was helping the children involved because they lived in poverty.

Lawes further claimed he had been exploited by the leaders of the sex ring rather than him exploiting his victims.

In the court documents, police said live streaming of child sexual abuse is being reported as a growing threat and is disseminated through the dark net and other peer-to-peer networks.

Traditionally, the documents read, the victims are based in South-East Asia, particularly in the Philippines, but the offending is now spreading to other countries.