BRUSSELS (AFP) - Belgian prosecutors are seeking a suspended prison sentence for an entrepreneur accused of promoting prostitution through a dating site for rich men and young women.
Sigurd Vedal - a 57-year-old Norwegian investor, influencer and "relationship expert", according to his site RichMeetBeautiful.com - appeared in court on Thursday (April 4).
In 2017, as students returned to the Free University of Brussels after their summer break, they were greeted by a truck carrying a mobile advertising hoarding.
The poster showed a woman's bosom barely covered by a bra and the slogan: "Hey female students, improve your lifestyle, go out with a Sugar Daddy."
The truck was seized after the university complained to the police, and Vedal has since been arrested and charged with "incitement to debauchery and prostitution".
Appearing before court on Thursday in Brussels, he insisted that he simply wanted to encourage customers to seek dates that were "out of the ordinary".
The state prosecutor denounced this argument as "hypocritical" and told the court: "Even if weasel words were used, everyone knew what it was about.
"There are half-dressed women on the site, there are no photos of couples in a restaurant," she said.
"Students are reduced to sex objects that must undress for money."
In addition to a six-month suspended sentence, prosecutors asked that Vedal be fined €40,000 (S$60,000) and his company Digisec Media a further €250,000.
"This digital entrepreneur simply wants to run a dating site, he's not an accountant of carnal desires," defence lawyer Eric Cusas insisted.
The Belgian court will give its verdict on May 8.
Vedal is also under investigation in France, accused of "aggravated pimping" after publicising a version of his site on a Paris campus.
RichMeetBeautiful's Belgian site has been blocked, but a version is available in France under the slogan: "World's No.1 Millionaire Dating."
"Find your perfect match for a relationship based on love, respect, passion and intellect," the strapline reads, over a photo of sports cars on the Las Vegas strip.
An older man in a tailored suit is pictured behind a younger blonde woman in a crystal-studded cocktail dress and alongside a luxury superyacht.
Users can sign up for free without proving that they are indeed rich.
A 45-year-old looking for female company is presented with a list of Parisian women in their 20s.
An e-mail to the new prospective client, signed by Vedal, boasts that the site hosts "four sugarbabies for every sugardaddy" searchable by age or ethnicity.
"Get the respect and admiration you deserve from young women eager to learn from an established mentor," it says.