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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 October, 2003, 13:44 GMT 14:44 UK
Briton guilty of running vice ring
Margaret Macdonald entering court during the trial
Margaret Macdonald was sentenced to four years in jail
A British woman has been found guilty of running one of Europe's biggest prostitution rings.

Margaret MacDonald, who turned 44 on Thursday, was found guilty of "aggravated procuring" for the purpose of prostitution, at a court in Paris.

She was sentenced to four years in prison and a fine of 150,000 euros [about 104,000].

MacDonald, who speaks eight languages and holds several business degrees, had always admitted running a "very high class" escort agency.

I provide a service for two adults - I am not naive - I know what can happen in an hotel room whether the girl is paid or not
Margaret MacDonald during her trial

But she told the French court it was up to her employees whether or not they slept with clients, and had nothing to do with her.

She did, however, admit that clients paying about 500 an hour for her escorts' services may well have expected slightly more than just company for drinks and dinner.

MacDonald, who had smiled and waved at friends in court as she arrived, looked stony-faced as the verdict was read out, and said nothing as she was led away.

MacDonald's lawyer, Emanuel Marsigny, said his client was very upset and wanted to appeal against the verdict.

"I think four years is far too heavy," he said.

Friend and former escort girl Axelle said the verdict was "unfair"
MacDonald's friend and former employee, Axelle Guerin, said outside the court that the verdict was "scandalous".

"It's hypocritical. The slaves you see on the street when you drive home tonight - they are prostitutes.

"I think it is totally unfair and I am very unhappy and I'm very sad," she said.

Police were originally tipped off to MacDonald by a former colleague Laura Schleich, who later set up a rival escort service.

MacDonald, who was brought up in Windsor, Berkshire and educated in London and at the Sorbonne in Paris, was arrested in May 2002 at a hotel near the Champs-Elysees.

She has been in custody in a French prison ever since.

Luxury hotels

The French police described MacDonald as "sophisticated, classy and extremely efficient".

The court heard she had no permanent base as such, instead moving between luxury hotels in several European countries, Israel and the US.

Her client list was said to consist of mainly Arab and European businessmen, although some were rumoured to be British celebrities.

MacDonald advertised her business on the internet and in the International Herald Tribune, giving phone numbers in Switzerland, Italy and Germany.

She managed her affairs with mobile telephones, an array of credit cards, multiple bank accounts and several false names.

Police said her laptop contained the names of 538 call girls and 36 men, based all around Europe.

MacDonald pocketed 30% to 40% of the prostitutes' earnings and made about 13,000 ($23,400) a month, they believe.

During her trial, MacDonald was offered reportedly huge sums for her story by the British tabloids.

There is also the prospect of a Hollywood film based on her unlikely career path.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Allan Little
"The court heard that she had on her books 538 women across Europe and 56 men"



SEE ALSO:
Briton 'ran prostitution empire'
15 May 02  |  UK News


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