A wealthy New Zealand man who paid for live footage of children as young as three being sexually abused in the Philippines said he was helping the victims to escape from poverty by sending them money.

Martin Henry Lawes, 74, a former community board chairman in Auckland, has admitted he sent about US$67,000 to the Philippines as payment for sex shows. He will go on trial in February next year.

Lawes was arrested last September as part of an international child pornography operation led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States, the New Zealand Herald reported. According to court documents, Lawes first contacted women in the Philippines in 2008 under the alias “Tony Henry”, asking that they perform sexual acts on a webcam for him.

He was traced after a live online child-sex streaming service at Iligan City in the Philippines was shut down in 2015 and five adults charged; Lawes was found to have made payments to the service. Police in the Philippines said that 12 girls were rescued from the operation.

New Zealand authorities found hundreds of images of children on Lawes’ computer, some believed to be as young as three, when they raided his home in September 2017. Three devices were seized, and dozens of objectionable publications were found.

Some of the streamed shows featured sexual acts involving adults and children, while others only had children.

Lawes 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.

A multi-millionaire, Lawes told police that the money he had sent was insignificant to him, but he believed he was helping the families of children in the streaming services because they lived in poverty.