Monday, January 15, 2007

Netherlands: Amsterdam Cleans Up Its Act

Famous as a social experiment,
the red light district also has vocal critics

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS -- The famous red light district in Amsterdam is a haven for organised crime, according to the city council at least. Not so, say brothel owners who are resisting the capital's crackdown. Nicola Smith investigates further.

One third of the famous 'window' brothels and sex clubs of Amsterdam are facing closure after the city council recently refused to renew 33 licences in a crackdown against organised crime.

The narrow alleyways of Amsterdam's red light district have attracted prostitutes and their clients since the 17th century and have now become a major tourist attraction.

But the council edict could change the face of the area, removing the sight of scantily clad women beckoning custom in the glow of the street windows' neon lights.

City councillors say the clampdown is necessary to tackle suspected money laundering in some brothels. Some human rights groups claim the move also shows resolve to fight the trafficking of women and forced prostitution.

The accusations of links to organised crime have been shot down by the nine brothel owners set to lose their money-spinning businesses. The group is set to challenge the decision in a court case on 19 January.

Twenty of the buildings and 60 of the 'windows' are owned by "fat" Charlie Geerts, a big player in the porn industry and the red light district for decades.

Last week, his lawyer Han Jahae said previous investigations had proven Geerts had no links with criminal activities and that the council's information was both wrong and out of date.

"Basing such drastic action on information this old is totally unreasonable," he said.

Nevertheless, Geerts has since sold a fifth of his brothels and windows, selling three buildings with 13 rooms. The buyers were two brothers.

Geerts said the sale had been planned before Amsterdam's crackdown. "I simply want to enjoy old age," he said.


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