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Wednesday, January 6, 1999 Published at 18:37 GMT

World: Europe

Prostitution boss jailed in France

Robert De Niro: Questioned as a witness, but not charged

A French photographer has been sentenced to five years in prison for his role as a leader of an international prostitution network.

Jean-Pierre Bourgeois, 51, was also required to pay $40,000 in damages to five young women who filed the charges that led to his arrest.

Investigators say the ring's leaders recruited dozens of young women - described as models, students and aspiring actresses. Clients are said to have included movie producers, sports stars and Middle Eastern businessmen.

The investigation created a stir in February, when actor Robert De Niro was hauled in and questioned for nine hours. He was not charged.

De Niro has denied paying any woman for sex and angrily denounced the judge's tactics. He threatened to return his Legion of Honour - one of France's most prestigious decorations.

Up to $3,500 a night

The case involved nearly 90 young women, including 14 minors, and a network that allegedly spread from Paris to the Riviera, and covered Morocco, the United States, Portugal, Switzerland and Britain.

Police say customers paid $1,000-$3,500 dollars for a night.

Bourgeois, who has worked for soft porn magazines, allegedly ran the operation with former Swedish model Annika Brumark, 48. She goes on trial on 19 May.

A Lebanese intermediary, Nazih Abdullatif Al Ladki, 63, was sentenced to 10 months in prison and banned from France for five years.

Al Ladki testified that he had helped to supply young women, preferably of Scandinavian origin, to Prince Fawaz of Saudi Arabia, a brother of King Fahd.

A Swedish citizen, Thomas Axell, 49, was fined $9,100 for participating in the ring, while charges were dropped against Janiena Toresdotter, also Swedish.

None of the women face trial as prostitution is legal in France, though procuring prostitutes is not.

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