Organised crime forces Amsterdam to clean up

Authorities in Amsterdam will close down half the city’s brothels and cannabis cafes because they are attracting organised crime.

The Netherlands legalised prostitution eight years ago and has long tolerated the possession of small amounts of cannabis, which is often sold in ‘coffee shops’.

But after deciding last year that the country’s capital Amsterdam needed cleaning up, the city’s leaders this week unveiled plans to close half its brothels and coffee shops.

They admitted the “sex and drugs” culture had got out of hand, with an official document stating: “There is crime and an infrastructure that is maintained and fed by a host of criminogenic facilities.”

“Money laundering, extortion and human trafficking are things you do not see on the surface but they are hurting people and the city. We want to fight this,” said Amsterdam’s deputy mayor Lodewijk Asscher.

Mr Asscher hopes the clampdown will make the area seem less seedy and tourists will no longer be “embarrassed” to say they have been there.

However, 30 coffee shops and around 200 of the notorious windows in which prostitutes advertise themselves will be allowed to remain.

“We can still have sex and drugs, but in a way that shows the city is in control”, Mr Asscher said.

Last year, Mayor of Amsterdam Job Cohen admitted: “The legalisation of prostitution did not bring about what many had hoped.

“We are still faced with distressing situations in which women are exploited.”

A report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in 2006 listed the Netherlands among the top destinations for trafficked people.

Victor Malarek, a journalist who has written a book on the global sex trade, blames liberal prostitution laws like the ones in the Netherlands for the exploitation of women by sex traffickers.

He said during an interview in 2004 that these countries “should walk into the UN building with their flags held at half-mast for what their policies on the sex trade have done to thousands of young women.

“Traffickers have been given a red carpet to walk on in those countries.”

Ministers in the UK have rejected the Dutch model of a regulated prostitution industry, opting instead to criminalise men who pay for sex with prostitutes controlled for another person’s gain.

Announcing the plans last month, home secretary Jacqui Smith stopped short of a complete ban on paying for sex, which will be allowed if the woman is acting ‘independently’.